Rock music needs more guy-girl vocals. Guy-girl vocals persuade us, however fleetingly, that sexual harmony is not just the empty promise of educational videos. When you listen to Rainer Maria or the Pixies (or Fleetwood Mac, anyone?) and those voices gloriously blend together, the gender gap seems a little less wide. At first listen, the Heavenly States, a Bay Area indie trio featuring guitarist/lead singer Ted Nesseth, violinist/vocalist Genevieve Gagon and drummer Jeremy Gagon, promises to join such romantic company with the release of its self-titled debut.
Reincarnated from the Minnesota group Fluke Starbucker, the band already has some impressive collaborations under its belt, with a split seven-inch single with Coldplay and live sets featuring the Oldham brothers (the Gagons’ brother Colin has played keys for Smog and the Palace Brothers). The trio’s name, an attempt to improve on the self-damning original, promises something transcendental, which in reality betrays the band’s terrestrial approach. Gagon’s harmonies may complete Nesseth’s melodies, for example, but they do not elevate them. The same can be said for those conventionally “celestial” instruments (strings, piano, organ) that humbly fill in the spaces between Nesseth’s crunching guitar lines — or better yet, answer their challenge.
Such is the case with Gagon’s violin, the most earthbound and refreshing contribution to The Heavenly States. She plays the instrument less like a conservatory student and more like a shredding fiend. Sawing away in faster-tempo numbers like “The Story Of” and “New Parade,” Gagon refuses to be mere accompaniment, and instead of complementing the “masculine” guitars, she’ll out rock them and summon her own organic feedback, as she does in the chaotic bridge of “New Parade.” Taking that cue, Nesseth’s aching, heart-on-sleeve vocals assume the feminine role on the quieter numbers.
Different riffs and melodies on this album deserve a listen — particularly the ones that manage to strike gold with just two notes (the opener “American Borders” and “The Story Of”) — but as original as they are, many of the songs fall flat. Each track follows its own logic: “Monster” launches into a verse after a few snare hits, the prog-pop “Cumulous to Nebulous” finds a groove after a thoughtful, extended buildup. But it’s hard to see why any song belongs on this themeless, centerless album. The slower, sad songs balance out the faster, lighter ones, but that’s all. And as pretty and gripping as “Hangar” is, it still comes across as the obligatory weeper expected to close any full-length.
While Eminem and Britney fans may retreat into their gender-divided camps, the older, more “sophisticated” welcome the embrace of the yin and the yang. The Heavenly States presents its own interesting take on that ideal marriage, but listeners may need to be offered something else, should sexual logic elude them once again.