The Band in Heaven
Caught in a Summer Swell
Decades Records, 2013
Review by Kent Manthie
They’ve been at it for a while now, having started out as a two-piece and enlarging into a quartet, making singles, DIY-style, amassing a fan base in the land called Florida. But Caught in a Summer Swell is the first full length CD from The Band in Heaven, a West Palm Beach-based neo-psych-pop band. By putting this together they seem to have come out of their shell, so to speak. Instead of their shyness being shown by layers of guitars, reverb, white noise, etc that drown out the vocals somewhat (sort of like My Bloody Valentine), on Caught in a Summer Swell they turned up the vocal knob on the studio mixer so as to better hear their lyrics.
But, not to worry for you hardcore B.I.H. fans: they’ve not turned into a radio-friendly sell-out machine or anything, the music is lush, textural, not overly simplistic, repetitious or derivative (well, everything’s been done before, someone once said, but The Band in Heaven are of the ilk that doesn’t wear their influences on their sleeve for all to hear. Unless one’s lived under a rock for their whole life, one can’t help but be influenced in some way – whether consciously or otherwise. And, the influences don’t have to be only musical, they can come from all over – literary, cinematic, artistic (as in “fine arts”), political, et cetera.
The first track on Caught in a Summer Swell, “Dandelion Wine” starts off with a crisp guitar riff and then goes headlong into a sweet, luscious catchy tune. It also happens to be their “single”, for which they’ve made a video.
The vocals are split, back & forth and together between male & female, making for great harmonizing as well as some more depth. But the dreamy guitar, played bare, with no distortion, just a clean, slick sound, is really what catches your ear. You can’t help but be taken in by this album.
Also good is the title track (#3), “Young and Dumb”, a nearly seven minute tune that is just a lovely song – both in lyrics and in the dreamy psych-pop that grips you and doesn’t let go and “Disappear Here”. The gist of the emotive process on Caught in a Summer Swell is the loss of innocence brought on by nothing more than “growing up”, being a part of the cold, cruel world. In a similar vein, the album goes on to deal with such “adult” issues as being in debt, the crush of the environment outside, themes of family and related issues. The title is apt for the concepts they’re trying to get across – Caught in a Summer Swell is a nice way to describe what their emotive instinct is – summertime is a fantastic time – remember when you were in school and couldn’t wait for the end of the schoolyear to come and then have 3 months of summer vacation to hang out with your friends, go on trips with your family or just kick back in an air conditioned house and watch MTV all day or movies, etc. – when June came around it was absolute bliss: you had a whole season to be away from the dregs of school. But by August, as soon as you started to see “Back to School” ads popping up, it would be a depressing reminder of the fact that summer would eventually be over and then – back to school. In the way the title’s used here, you can extrapolate that theme, existentially, where “summer” represents the best years of your life, the good times, inextricably linked with the bad times, even though, for the fortunate, anyway, the good outweighs the bad and you can’t really know “good” without knowing “bad” – an example of the unity of opposites (yin/yang); but once that “summer swell” unleashes you, you get thrown right in the middle of the rat race of life. Whether this “summer swell” ends after high school or after getting a degree at the university, you still end up with much the same ends: time to get a job, pick a career, grow up in a hurry and find out that life isn’t as great as you thought it’d be when you were only 15-16 and couldn’t wait to, at least, turn 21 so you could buy liquor, get into bars, etc. but when you turn 22 the novelty starts to wear off. These are the ideas The Band in Heaven are inculcating via their shoegazing, hypnogogic sweetness and light: a multicolored spectrum of bright pastels that push the pleasure centers in the brain. -KM