German quartet Heaven And’s debut is adventurous and unpredictable, as at home in Tom Waits/Nick Cave swamp noir as in free-form jazz/post-rock. A murky soundtrack-vibe predominates. If Jim Jarmusch ever wants to open a night club and finds himself strapped for a good house band, Heaven And would be a solid choice.
The record’s cinematics are all in the sparseness and sense of anticipation, particularly tactile in opener “As if a Star,” which builds its steam with a portentous groove that sounds like an infinite loop of the opening to Shaft, keeping you waiting tensely for that one cathartic snare snap to come and slingshot you into a full song. Instead, the groove swerves down a dark alley and the suspense is relentless.
“Sweeter as the Years Roll By” is a player’s record whose greatest sonic pleasure is in the nimble interplay between a two-drummer low-end anchor and the fluid, hovering drift of ominous guitars, synths and laptop electronics. Its foregrounding of the band’s dynamics, however, sometimes makes for an expert performance of somewhat slight material. This seems to be a risk of many a recording put out by such a group of multifaceted musicians; just because they are able to go in a hundred different directions doesn’t really mean that actually doing so will pay off in the artistic long run. “Bring Back Those Happy Days” is a pretty fair signpost of a deeper more-bugged This Heat/Thrill Jockey expanse that the group could handle with ease if it chose to: all wild, midtempo churning percussion and flatlining guitar feedback.
It’s a big solid chunk that dwarfs the slight, inconsequential interlude that follows. And while employing Einstürzende Neubauten vocalist Alexander Hacke would seem to be a nice out-there touch, he turns out to be the least welcome element in the band’s broad palette — see the corny quasi-mythic femme fatale exhortations on “Scarlet Woman” and the generally annoying golem vocals on "Prince Priest," both of which rather rudely run interference with an effortless avant-jam band sound that never seems born of calculation or concept, only the love and understanding that is the lifeblood of any good improvised music.