Record Review: Mister Heavenly’s Out Of Love
At its core, Mister Heavenly is about the interplay of inverse forces. The band’s debut, Out Of Love, seeks to meld light-footed doo-wop harmonies with burly guitars and creepy lyrics; to wed Ryan Kattner’s (of Man Man) unruly circus-romp rock to Nick Thorburn’s (of Islands and The Unicorns) bleeping, cavorting electro-pop. The result, like its components, is a little uneven. There are moments when you believe that “doom-wop”—the too-clever moniker coined by the band for its nascent genre—has real potential. There are also moments when the record sounds like an Islands song pasted together piecemeal with a Man Man outtake and a 1950s B-side.
Kattner’s voice is a skidding, abrasive rumble that jars against Thorburn’s amiable yelp. Kattner occasionally manages to cajole his growling tones into something like the croon needed to narrate bouncing duets full of whistles and plinking, twinkly riffs. He navigates honeyed verses like “Her lips are like ships to sail right through the thoughts that you harbor” with surprising dexterity—though on the closing track, “Wise Men,” an unfortunate lyric (“I’m cracking like a coconut”) elicits winces, especially as it’s relayed via Kattner’s rasp. Kattner’s talents are best tailored to “I Am A Hologram,” where he commandeers the chorus’ rhyming, timely couplet and makes the song his own.
Thorburn and Kattner share vocal duties for most of the album, trading off like they’re the only subs in a one-person game. The combination can be almost lovely: “Your Girl” charms despite (or perhaps because of) its weird amalgam of cute come-ons and veiled threats, and you’ll find the melody from “Wise Men” replaying in your head hours later, lodged there seemingly permanently. And then there’s “Pineapple Girl,” which takes as its subject the strange correspondence struck up between notorious Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and then ten-year-old American Sarah York in 1988. Thorburn channels Noriega: “I’m not a mean one, I’m just another leader,” while Kattner plays the part of the little girl: “I don’t desire to be a clueless creature.” With its disconcerting theme and unorthodox casting, “Pineapple Girl” is the last thing you’d expect it to be: sweet.
Out Of Love falters when it fails to successfully integrate its opposing influences. Opener “Bronx Sniper,” for example, is a fuzzy, fairly standard rocker with a lilting intro affixed awkwardly to the beginning. “Doom-Wop” is a jumble of out-of-tune vocals, squealing reverb and a dull, pounding beat. “Harm You” suffers from the same split-personality ailment as “Mister Heavenly,” divided as it is between a snarling, spitting verse and a delicate refrain.
On “Harm You,” Thorburn sings, “I’m in love with the myth of who made you.” It’s an appropriate notion for a band billed as an “indie super-group.” There’s always more expected when there are branded names in the liner notes, and history is littered with the botched attempts at famous collaboration that are so much less than the sum of their parts. Mister Heavenly’s Out Of Love has its missteps, but it’s worth listening to for its flashes of brilliance