It’s hard to reach your Heavenly States. You want to compare it to Nirvana, but there’s no basis for that—whole other field, even if the occasional heavy guitars and considered angst appear. To get to the Heavenly States, you follow the violin, but don’t take advice from the Chieftans, it’s not that kind of place, even if you think you hear it at times (and you’re not drunk enough to be Pogueish). So your Heavenly States is a little of all that, but in the end, none of it.
Black Comet provides your guide to the spiritual realm you’re seeking (and lest the wordplay go to far, by “spiritual”, I mean “musical” and by “seeking”, I mean “currently reading about”). Start with jangle-pop, add grunge-y vocals, throw in some pop violin (but its own kind, no DMB stuff). Continue on to “Pretty Life”, the second track on the album (the first one being the first) that sounds like something you’re sure you’ve heard before, and yet is totally unique. Now add some bizarro lyrics that almost make sense, the kind that typifies vocalist / guitarist Ted Nesseth’s writing style: “This is the best, / The best of the blessed, / Detest the camera”. It might not be precise, but it feels right.
The rest of the album continues as a straightforward pop enigma (if you can puzzle that one out). The Heavenly States repeatedly hint at things you’re familiar with, yet always sound distinctly themselves. Their strongest trait, melody writing, comes out on nearly every song. The States have obviously listened to lots of power pop, and these songs hang on hooks and melodies. The trio might throw in fiddles or flute-y synths or whatever, but it’s also to develop the sound and support the song, never to throw a distracting mess at the audience.
As obscure as the lyrics sometimes get, the Heavenly States have the feel of a populist act, possibly of a pinko persuasion (I’m totally guessing), who seek to mobilize the people. Last fall’s single, “King Epiphany” was released on election day to serve a big butt-slap to the current US administration and its foreign policy. Neither that song nor its b-side “Monument” could have been more direct, but Black Comet has more subtlety. “A Revolution Away” promises cannons and topplings with its title, but it’s actually a slow, lovely number containing only two words—“a revolution”. After the ripping good time of the album’s first ten tracks, this one serves as a lament, an elegy for a revolution that went uncreated even as its time came and and passed.
The band slows it down even further for closing number “The Witness”. Nesseth sings, “Can I get a witness to this crime, / And find the kiss to fit this Valentine, / Population 1945”. The song stays open-ended. Is this political? Personal? Nostalgic? Realist? “It’s best to not expect the best, / That’s the best you can do”: the advice we’re given. Then we’re warned (or asked to applaud?) the “matriarchal trend breaking down ... walls”. Suddenly the quasi-Irish-folk-power-pop-rock-post-grunge band has turned out to be full of dirge-singers, and I don’t even know why they’re sad.
So just hit repeat. The key to this whole Heavenly States search must be in there somewhere. Maybe that opening classical riff on “Light Dressed Storm” holds secrets. Or maybe we have to figure out what “the elastic days of this life” are (or at least why the music sounds so much happier than the words). In any case, it won’t be easy, but it will be fun getting to that place we’re searching for.
As long as you like the soundtrack for the trip.
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// Sound Affects
"History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats. Keep your finger on important issues, and keep listening to the 275th most acclaimed album of all time. A 1982 masterpiece is this week's Counterbalance.READ the article