New York City-based Heaven speaks less to a spiritual afterlife and more to a “seven minutes in heaven” kind of promised land. The trio (Matt Sumrow, Mikey Jones, Ryan Lee Dunlap) taps the hush and swagger, the compressed noise and darkened basements, the leather jackets and black eyeliner of ‘80s new wave in a way that feels wholly authentic for those of us who were there. And, at the same time, resolutely of the moment.
“Telepathic Love,” the title track from the band’s new album, is narcotic and poetic, its keys parts ever so slightly John Hughs soundtrack-esque (which really means Psychedelic Furs-esque); its drums very real and heavy. “I see the ugly and the beautiful. I know that I’m just trying to figure it out. A thousand weddings, a thousand funerals, with your white dress on and your black heart,” Sumrow sings at the song’s start, his voice all soft edges and wafting smoke.
“Falling Apple” layers a bass and drum drone with atmospheric guitars and keys. It’s almost menacing in its hush and hiss, stalking and brooding with only the sparest hints of airy melody. But even here, in the muddy depths, there’s a dreaminess that unfolds like a spell of evening falling. If much of the record is a nightscape, this song is sparklingly twilit.
The slow dance-noir of “New Amsterdam” slinks along on smoggy swells. Shadow and mist share space with reverb and drums played in subway or mineshaft. The song nods to Leondard Cohen and even more to Peter Murphy. Delicately bruised, gorgeously ruined, at turns scary and beguiling.
“Southern Rain,” too, is slow, but Sumrow’s voice is in the forefront. In fact, the refrain of the melancholy track is mostly vocal with hints of strummed guitar and the clear, high intonation of a bell rising from a dense, electric buzz. And as much as the instrumentation — Heaven’s own brand of post-punk, tinged with industrial and psychedelic modulations, sets the mood. More than mood, the instrumentation serves as a non-linear narrative. But it’s ultimately Sumrow’s vocal that is not only the icing, but the reveal of the story. Could he convey the same broken beauty and sultry grit with just an acoustic guitar? (Suicide Twins did something like that back in ‘86, so why not?) It would be a different show, for sure, but one I’d love to see.
The album’s first single (and opening track) “Colors in the Whites of Your Eyes,” pulses with barely-contained angst. There’s simmering excitement, yes, but also a twitchy unease just below a blase facade. Still waters rippled with jangle and stout cadence. It’s dream-pop with teeth, a deep nocturne that accesses all of those tiny wounds from childhood, the scars that still sting when touched just right. It’s funny (right?) how music can reach those faded-but-not-forgotten emotions. Unrequited moments, mixed tapes agonized over, candles left to burn to nothing, the ache of sleep deprivation morphing into magic in the predawn hours when time stops and anything is possible. When ghosts of past lives dance unembarrassed to the kick drum and the rattlesnake shimmy of the tambourine.