If Voltron wore black rimmed glasses, rocked skinny jeans, and had a crushing sense of inherent fallibility, then you might as well call him Mister Heavenly. The group is forged from indie royalty, featuring the union of Nick Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns), Ryan Kattner/Honus Honus (Man Man), and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Shins). And as if that wasn’t enough star power, last summer they toured with Micheal Cera playing bass. But enough with the preamble, what about the actual album?
As is the case for most supergroups or side projects, the new entity attempts to go in a somewhat different direction from what they do in their day jobs perhaps keying on one element of the sound the mother group makes but can’t or won’t pursue themselves (see The Postal Service). Mister Heavenly takes this phenomenon a step further by creating a whole new genre instead. What the group calls “doom wop” amounts to the unexpected synthesis of 50’s-era R&B and modern indie and punk rock. It`s a little bit of Tom Waits, a little My Chemical Romance, a dash of The Airborne Toxic Event, and the Platters. Oh, and this whole crazy collaboration is going down on halloween and there’s a full moon…and the backup harmonic singers have been replaced with skeletons. If there were a hipster bar in Tim Burton’s Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mister Heavenly would be the house band.
This unanticipated fusion found in the sonic element of the album extends into the lyrics as well. The eponymous track “Mister Heavenly”, which amounts to a theme song, contains the line “I won’t ever desert you” but then carries on to claim “I’m not Mister Heavenly”. “Your Girl” might be a take on the classic “My Girl” by The Temptations. Even “Pineapple Girl” puts a twist on a normally wholesome narrative, depicting the true story of a ten year old Michigan girl and her pen pal, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (this actually happened, Google Sarah York). As well, the album title itself is a double entendre as the band’s bio on their label Sub Pop’s website explains, “Out of Love, is both a nod to passion as a motivator (“I did it out of love”) and also the absence or dissolution of same (“She fell out of love with me”): two seminal lyrical themes in the annals of pop music.”
The first track “Bronx Sniper” could really be on a lot of other albums, only hinting at the onslaught of “doom wop” to come. But by the time the next two tracks “I am a Hologram” and “Charlyne” are done any attuned listener will realize something different is going on here. This is followed by the aforementioned “Mister Heavenly” and the album is off and running. The “doom wop” vibe is perfectly captured in “Hold my Hand”, “Diddy Eyes” and “Your Girl” before the closing track “Wise Men” brings us back somewhere closer to reality.
There aren’t, admittedly, a lot of takeaway tracks from Out of Love. But rather than giving us a few singles to remember, they’ve given us a whole new style to ponder. This album was an absolute treat (especially after reviewing Mat Kearney last week). It is engaging both musically and thematically without ever overwhelming the listener as a lot of today’s progressive acts tend to do. Don’t be so hard on yourselves gentlemen, you might be Mister Heavenly after all.