Review: The Heavenly States

The Heavenly States'

There’s certainly no shortage of bombast on Delayer, the latest release from Oakland, California’s The Heavenly States. With only a fraction of similar groups’ manpower, the trio of Ted Nesseth (guitar, vocals), Jeremy Gagon (drums) and Genevieve Gagon (violin, keyboards) create a sound that recalls the likes of Wilco or The E-Street Band, all without ever coming off as derivative. Despite their considerable talents, though, it seems as if The Heavenly States don’t always know how best to use that musical energy once they’ve harnessed it.

Despite its hesitant title, Delayer comes out of the gate running. Album opener “Morning Exercise” kicks off the affair with swirling keyboards, propulsive guitars and earnest vocal harmonies. Above this sonic bed, Nesseth proclaims, “This goes on the record, it hurts so bad,” an early moment of self-reflection that could very well double as the album’s de facto mission statement. Delayer is lined with emotional trials such as this, although they won’t always be as coherent and captivating as they are here.

One song into the album, The Heavenly States stumble with “System’s” uninspired guitar histrionics and grating two-part harmonies, nearly crippling any momentum gained by the opening track. The band quickly recover, thanks to the straight ahead rock of “Lost in the Light,” a song punctuated by “whoa-ohs” and tambourine shakes that could easily have been written by Mellencamp or Springsteen during their heyday. Nevertheless, the damage has been done and the album’s central problem has been exposed: the same energy that fuels tracks like “Morning Exercise,” “Lost in the Light,” and the Uncle Tupelo-tinged southern stomp of “Never Be Alright” causes other songs to flounder.

Some of the best moments on this, the band’s third full length, are the quiet ones. The arrangements on Delayer grow more ambitious as the album hits its mid-point. The instrumentation on “Sun Chase Moon” and “Butterflies” rises and falls while Nesseth recounts tales of loss and longing. His voice is put to good use here. If there is a weak link in Delayer, it is Nesseth’s occasional inability to vocally match the dynamism of the rest of the band. There is nothing particularly distinctive about Nesseth’s vocals and his singing occasionally comes off as flat and inexpressive. When the band is on, though, as they are on many of these tracks, they’re definitely worth a listen. With Delayer, The Heavenly States have crafted a flawed, yet ultimately satisfying rock ‘n roll album.

— Curt Whitacre