Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.
Mister Heavenly: “Bronx Sniper”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Mister_Heavenly_Bronx_Sniper.mp3|titles=Mister Heavenly: “Bronx Sniper”]
Supergroups are usually a crapshoot. Sometimes they blossom into something outstanding (e.g., Wolf Parade), and other times they fall flat on their face (e.g., Audioslave). With so many ideas and creative juices flowing — as well as taking caution to not step on any toes of the other bands — collaborating can sometimes lead to strained and tolling music. So it’s with much caution that I began listening to Mister Heavenly, which features indie rockers Nick Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns, Human Highway), Ryan Kattner (Man Man), and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Shins). But unlike so many side projects, which can serve as pedestals for glorified B-sides or a hodgepodge of directions that don’t always click, Mister Heavenly plays to its strengths, resulting in a fantastic album and listening experience.
After the first few tracks of Mister Heavenly’s debut, Out of Love, it becomes apparent that a collaboration of this caliber just makes sense. In fact, the songs fit so well together that it seems ridiculous that these three have never teamed up before. Thorburn has made a name for himself by being a part of quirky musical projects; Kattner has gained much attention for his band’s eccentric tendencies; and Plummer, as the drummer of Modest Mouse, has helped craft some of his band’s best songs with erratic beats and percussive versatility.
Moreover, Mister Heavenly finds all three members not only playing to their individual strengths but playing to each other’s strengths as well. Thorburn lends his whimsical talents to the more dynamic Man Man-esque songs, and Kattner dabbles in the tropicalia-infused, hook-laden, Islands-esque songs. While each member’s musical approach is different, enough ground is given so that each song can fuse its disparate bits and pieces. For example, “Reggae Pie” features a mishmash of instruments and distinct Islands, Man Man, and Modest Mouse elements. It’s Thorburn’s and Kattner’s complementary vocals that keep it all tied together. (It gets to the point where a song feels empty if they aren’t switching off singing duties on a regular basis — though most songs do.)
One song in the album’s latter half, “Doom Wop,” perhaps defines the band’s sound better than a thousand words can. Though the song itself is only a little over a minute and a half long, the title captures the splendor, absurdity, and uniqueness of which Mister Heavenly is capable. The idea is largely what Out of Love has come to sound like: Kattner singing doo-wop and pop tropicalia (see “Pineapple Girl”), and Thorburn singing disturbing, off-kilter rock-outs (see “Harm You”). The two indie veterans have essentially swapped roles — and genres, for that matter — on this project. But it all works. Mister Heavenly has built a cohesive unit of indie-pop magic — one part dark, one part lighthearted. It would be a shame if this enthralling concoction of genres and musical idiosyncrasies stops at just one album. With these three making music together, the possibilities feel endless.