Boxing the Moonlight
Polyvinyl Records, 2017
Review by Kent Manthie
I’ve got a lot of new albums to review and a lot of them are coming from Polyvinyl Records. They’ve been cracking the whip on their righteous stable of foxy bands (I’m joking, of course, Polyvinyl is run by a team of really nice and quite committed women and men). Over the past month or so I’ve been getting a heavier-than-normal load of new releases from this venerable Chicago outfit.
Boxing the Moonlight is the newest LP from L.A.’s Mister Heavenly. It’s been a long wait for this sophomore effort from this “indie supergroup”, a term I saw applied to this band, made up of veterans of independence: six years. That sort of idleness is apt to sound a death knell for many a relatively new band, when, in an age of ubiquity, where images abound and looks matter, style matters and too often, at least in the venal, vacuous, nebulous world of pop-star weltanschauung matters just as much, if not more so – this is evident when you have talentless kids who are thrown together by Svengali – or Pygmalion – types who, in their scheme to make a lot of money, exploit ditzy young boys and ride them like so many showhorses until their veneer wears off (i.e., they get a little too old – they turn 22, for example). Indeed, in myriad ways, often not for the best, the medium is the message.
As far as six years having passed since Mister Heavenly’s debut, that doesn’t seem like that long ago because time just flies by so fast; over the past two decades, the years seem to have blurred into one another. But that’s me for ya; more specifically, that’s what it’s like when you’re over 35 and five years doesn’t mean the difference, anymore, between when you were just finishing up sixth grade and, five years later you’re a year away from graduating high school.
Mister Heavenly, can, on the other hand, probably afford to put off making a second record as they all have had some experience and time in with other acts, meaning they aren’t a new outfit, just breaking out from the local club circuit of their home turf. The band features veterans of other indie-rock bands: we have Ryan Kattner, late of Honus Honus of Man Man; Nick Thorburn, from both Islands and The Unicorns as well as ex-Cold War Kid, Joe Plummer, the drummer, who also, in times past, provided percussion for Modest Mouse and, at another point, The Shins. The fact that Plummer previously played with The Shins is an interesting coincidence for me because when I listened to Boxing the Moonlight, that was one of the first things that came to mind: “hmm…this kind of sounds like The Shins.”
With their second effort, Mister Heavenly is, apparently, going for a “tougher sound” than was heard on Out of Love. To tell the truth, I haven’t listened to anything from Out of Love so I can’t make a comparison. Sorry. What I can say, though, is that if Boxing the Moonlight is supposed to be “tougher” than Out of Love than that album must have been really mellow, like easy listening-type less “tough”. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. There are some interesting, quite reasonable tunes on Boxing… one tune that does stick out a little, that one could maybe call “tough” is the album’s penultimate track, “Dead Duck”, which, besides having a kind of raw, jagged-edge quality to it also has an infectiousness, re its hooks and sexy, whipsmart verve. “Crazy Love, Vol. III” has a reggae beat to it. Not quite The Wailers or Mr. Tosh, of course, but there’s an obvious tip-o’-the-hat to the sound and spirit of reggae. Then there’s the final cut, “Out of Time”, which, as with the other few latter-album songs, pricks up one’s ears more so than the earlier songs, one reason, for me at least, was that as I was listening to the song, I found it confoundingly familiar-sounding; I thought and thought about who may have originally done this song, then I just had to find out just what the deal was so I went to one website which had a small little write-up about the album as well as a list of all the songs as well as the songwriting credits! Talk about a psychic internet (or not). Anyway, when I read through the credits for the songs, they were all attributed to Mister Heavenly, so it seems that the tunes are a group effort. But it also informed me that “Out of Time” is not a cover song; it was written by Mister Heavenly. Then, about 10 minutes after the song – and the album – was over it finally hit me: that sounds a lot like the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time”, from 1966’s Aftermath.
“So-so”. At least that was my first take on the album, while listening to it. But even as I neared the latter few songs of it, it began to catch on. In the past, many albums that have come to be quite endearing in their entirety have, when I first listened to them just didn’t catch on the way some albums have; I mean ones that, from the very first note of the first song of the album, all the way through to the end of the finale, have won my enduring awe. In other cases, though, I’ll get an album – maybe it will be one that I receive in order to review it, other times it might be an album that has a song or two I heard over at a friend’s house, maybe on one of the rare occasions in which I might turn the radio on: maybe my CD player isn’t working, maybe my MP3 player needs charging or whatever – this is almost always when I’m in my car, driving somewhere, since I never have any need to listen to the radio when I’m at home: I have various options to listen to various things on different media. Anyway, when I get that album I’ll put it on, start at the beginning and plan on listening to the entire thing, but, for whatever reason(s), it just doesn’t click with me. It could have something to do with me; my state of mind at the time I’m listening to said album; maybe I’m expecting something else but when I hear what I hear, there’s something that gets in the way and I’ll be disappointed or just not impressed. Then, at some later point, I might be watching a movie or something and at some fitting part they’ll be using a song from said album and suddenly it’s like a switch gets turned on and I find myself thinking “what the hell? That is good!” and next thing you know, I’ll go to my Windows Media Player and scroll through the library until I come to it and then I’ll give it a listen; maybe just that song or maybe I’ll play the whole thing again and, what do you know? I suddenly find that I really like this album. Well, that’s how it worked with Boxing the Moonlight: I listened to it a second and then a third time and by the time I got to writing this review, the album started to grow on me.
It’s got a crisp, no-fat alt-pop sensibility to it; not sappy or sentimental, not avant-garde careering but a good clean rock record; an album for all seasons.