As music listeners/blog trolls/nerds, we like the idea of the “supergroup,” imagining what it would be like if Jimmy Page started playing guitar for a band fronted by a rapper (or something less lame). It’s the closest we get to playing fantasy baseball, with bassists serving as middle relief pitching, and singers first round picks. But more often than not, “supergroups” end up being less than super, and often seem like the members out to make more money together than they do apart.
Which is why it’s hard to call Mister Heavenly, the team up of Nick Thorburn (Unicorns, Islands), Ryan Kattner (Man Man) and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), a “supergroup,” and not just because none of them have had a Top 40 hit. Mister Heavenly sound less like a mercenary collaboration between a couple indie songwriters, and more like a way for Thorburn—a serial collaborator who has worked on albums with El-P, Jim Guthrie, producer Daddy Kev, and others—and Kattner to put a little of their peanut butter in each other’s jelly (not a sex metaphor). There’s basically no avoiding it: Out of Love sounds like an Islands album with prominent guest vocals from the dude from Man Man. Or, alternatively, a Man Man EP with a bunch of Islands songs on it.
Which is not to say Out of Love isn’t a fine album; it’s maybe Thorburn’s best side project yet. From the skronky stomping opener “Bronx Sniper” to the delicate (and weird) “Diddy Eyes” and the chilled-out barroom brawler “Wisemen,” this is an album that belies its inauspicious creation. Started after Thorburn and Kattner met, and worked on in spurts for more than a year, Mister Heavenly initially seemed like it would come off as sounding slapdash, with a firm in-between-tours vibe. But that’s not the case: Out of Love is fully realized, with a song cycle touching on people failing you, your body failing you, you failing you, and you trying not to fail women named Charlyne. Kattner and Thorburn initially called their music “doom wop,” which doesn’t really come close to describing the stylistic breadth here. Out of Love runs the gamut from Beefheart skronk-isms (“I Am a Hologram” and “Bronx Sniper”), Luau pop (“Harm You”), country ballads (“Hold My Hand”) and barbershop (“Your Girl”).
As becomes unavoidable when two people from different bands join up, it’s tough to separate Out of Love from the most recent output of Man Man and Islands (and even Modest Mouse, I suppose). But viewed in a vacuum, Out of Love is one of this year’s strongest debuts, a complete album with easy hooks and easy charms. But still, this is sure to be compared to Vapours and Life Fantastic, and maybe unfavorably. But Out of Love does prove one thing: Bands that get their first major notice because Michael Cera played bass for them for a few shows can survive that, and deliver albums as solid as Out of Love.