Off-kilter pub crawl karaoke fodder.
On Out of Love, their first outing as an indie supergroup, Mister Heavenly flexed their accumulated chops through the made-up subgenre “doom wop.” Nicholas Thorburn from Islands, Ryan Kattner from Man Man and drummer Joe Plummer from Modest Mouse formed like Voltron to create tightly written, idiosyncratic music best described as a girl group from the ‘50s projecting cover songs from purgatory. Their debut was typified by smart hooks leadened with dread and surprising moments of sincerity. Honestly, it felt like this Justice-League-culled-from-a-2011-issue-of-Under-the-Radar had collectively produced a stronger project than any conjured by their main outfits.
Boxing the Moonlight largely abandons that specific sound, replaced by a war chest of genre explorations unified by the unique interplay between Thorburn and Kattner’s dueling vocal abilities. Thorburn’s got a schoolboy slightness to his delivery, a charming simulacrum of innocence at odds with his sly lyricism. It blends perfectly with Kattner’s brawny, textured voice, forming a winning tag team comprised of two singers it becomes difficult to imagine working solo. Their chemistry is an anchor at the heart of an album that feels less strange than their last outing, but is far from playing it safe. This is relentless experimentation within a variety of sonics that sounds deceptively palatable, like having a cover band at a wedding whose indulgent noodling never distracts from the event’s celebratory mood.
The band flits through various styles and influences through the LP’s eleven tracks like trying on an armoire’s worth of outfits and looks. The upbeat opener “Beat Down” serves as a comfortable baseline, setting the pace with a recognizable foundation that plays like a sunny. Summertime riff on the quirky indie rock underpinnings of their debut. “Makin’ Excuses” is a pleasant, charming rocker with a cartoon chorus and sublime back and forth from the two singers. But outside of those two, every other song feels like it could belong on a wildly different release.
Take “Hammer Drop,” a sludgy yet cavernous thriller punctuated by heavy drums. It sounds like something that might open a new Jack White side project. The real outliers are “Crazy Love, Vol. III,” a lush, reggae-tinged ballad as breezy as it is surprising and “Dead Duck,” a ridiculous, psychedelic freakout that feels more like the backing track for a Scooby Doo acid trip than an indie rock cut. That they both sound so at home with one another is a testament to how well this three piece works together and the elasticity of their shared aesthetic.
Perhaps not the best song on the album, “George’s Garden” still comes off as the most ambitious. It sits dead center in the track list, opening with krautrock synths before randomly transforming into a chest beating anthem that hard charges towards a cathartic climax that never quite arrives. It’s emblematic of how an album that’s this left field from moment to moment can cumulatively result in one of the most easy listening long plays of the year. How this Mister Heavenly project has gone from late ‘00s time capsule to off-kilter pub crawl karaoke fodder remains a mystery, but it’s great to see Out of Love wasn’t just a one-off fluke.