Talk about a refreshing change of pace…. Sometimes when I’m sitting here listening to CD after CD of mostly loud rock, I catch myself waxing nostalgic for “the good old days.” I’ll admit, I came in on the tail-end of the “college rock” era of the late early ‘90s, back when everybody wanted to be R.E.M. (and not Korn, thank God) and jangly guitars were still cool, but it impacted me pretty heavily all the same. While I was never a huge R.E.M. fan, some of the later stuff from that period was my first introduction to indie-rock of any variety, and lately I’ve found myself wishing for a time machine (or at least, some decent reissues).
I’m not super-familiar with Sonny Sixkiller’s pedigree, never having heard guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kara Lafty’s “old” band, Moped, but I would guess, after hearing a few seconds of opener “Water It Down,” that these folks long for the good old days just like I do. The songs on here wouldn’t have sounded out of place on your average college radio station back in ‘92 or ‘93, before the “alternative” got sucked into the mainstream and jangly-guitar bands got left by the wayside. Heaven brings to mind bands like The Posies, Magnapop (well, the brilliant Hot Boxing, at least), later Replacements, and Juliana Hatfield and the Blake Babies—and yeah, the latter comparison is pretty hard to avoid, considering Lafty’s earnest, girl-next-door voice. But hey, there’re worse people to be compared to, right?
“Water It Down,” in particular, draws heavily from the old Magnapop sound, while “Blue Eye Shadow” could be a track off Frosting on the Beater, but both push past the band’s influences and shine as good songs in their own right. Same goes for “I’m Not Courageous,” the album’s high point, a finely-crafted, melancholy bit of majestic rock, and for the speedy fun of “Halo.” Most of the tracks alternate between rocking pop and more delicate moments; twinkling, chiming guitar-picking trades off with semi-distorted rock power that definitely makes itself heard but never overpowers the words or melodies. Even better, that trade-off happens seamlessly, a cool change from a lot of “dynamic” rock bands out there that seem content to just pause a second and then hit the distortion; the songs flow from loud to soft.
Don’t expect any gimmicks or trickery here—no DJs, no funky African instruments, no laugh-quick timely pop-humor, no hidden tracks, no songs that you think have ended but then start again. Heaven is just back-to-the-basics pop/rock of the best kind possible: guitar, bass, drums. Pair that with songs like these, and what more do you need?
// Notes from the Road
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