Maritime: Heresy and the Hotel Choir

Mike Hilleary

With his third post-Promise Ring effort, Davey von Bohlen finally finds his lost pop.


Heresy and the Hotel Choir

Label: Flameshovel
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
UK Release Date: Available as import

Starting over can sometimes be a bit of a process. It's not a course of action that always comes with instant gratification. More often than not it always takes a few steps to reach where you once were. Milwaukee-based band Maritime can attest to the trek.

Formed out of the emo remains of Promise Ring, singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier, as well as ex-Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson, Maritime's released its debut, Glass Floor in 2004, hoping to establish some new level of matured songwriting. Unfortunately Glass Floor wound up receiving quite the mixed bag of critical reviews, most viewing it as a tepid collection of songs that failed to deliver.

Despite the less-than-stellar critiques the members of Maritime gave themselves little time to care about what people were saying about them. Just two months after copies of Glass Floor hit store shelves, the band immediately switched gears and got back to work in the studio to make what would become their second record, We, the Vehicles. Released in 2006, this sophomore effort was quite the pleasant surprise. It was actually quite good. Concentrating on consistency and catchy hooks von Bohlen wound up writing some of the best pop songs he had done in years.

Of course, all this supposed progress would hit yet another snag when Axelson, tired of the tour lifestyle, decided to leave Maritime shortly before their scheduled tour. While a string of musicians provided some temporarily relief for the void Axelson left behind, von Bohlen and Didier eventually remedied their loss by not just replacing a member, but adding to the group as a whole. With bassist Justin Klug and guitarist/keyboardist Dan Hinz brought into the line-up the biggest question seemed to be whether Maritime would be able to maintain their more successful direction with yet another new starting point.

Fortunately, the band’s latest effort, Heresy and the Hotel Choir, diffuses such concerns. Demonstrating a confidence and closeness that the line-up never had before -- so much so that the four members of the group actually live within two miles of each other -- it might be safe to say that Maritime has finally reached the kind of musical stability is was aiming for when the group started several years ago.

Enlisting the help of producer Stuart Sikes (whose collaboration list includes Cat Power and Modest Mouse), Heresy and the Hotel Choir is a cohesive effort that builds on the charming pop of We, the Vehicles. Appropriately kicking the album off is the delightfully bright, "Guns of Navarone". Thanks in large part to its spring-loaded rhythm guitar, excellent lead hook, and percussive romp, the track moves along like some bewitched rubber ball that just can't get rid of its bounce. Additional satisfaction comes courtesy of the fact that despite von Bohlen sings how "Sticks and stones might break my skin and bones", his voice comes through clear, and with a maturity that neatly contrasts the child-like emphasis of the lyrics.

More such pleasant indie-pop catchiness can be found throughout the rest of Heresy's dozen songs. "For Science Fiction", another likely candidate as a single, sees the von Bohlen quickly galumphing through his verses on the back of Klug's fuzz-distorted bass and Didier's chugging drum-kit. Addressing how "we all fear a different devil" and thanking God "for the benediction and the contradiction" (among other things), the band delivers a punchy anthem to appreciated life. From "Aren't We All Found Out", jangling with guitars and the beautiful, arcade hum of an electric Wurlitzer, to "Be Unhappy" and its summer boardwalk sun, to the static droning, acoustics, and harmonies found on "First Night on Earth", the members of Maritime devote themselves to something that has no acknowledgment of what came before. Heresy and the Hotel Choir starts things from scratch.


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