Monday, September 24, 2007

Reviews: Maritime Heresy and the Hotel Choir

It seems that Davey von Bohlen is finally going to have critics enjoy his music without a backhanded compliment or a justification. Since his days fronting Promise Ring and even with the appeal of the first Maritime records, you couldn't read a review without every compliment followed by a quick, "yeah, but" or "I like it better when".

Things changed after We, The Vehicles took the blog/indie world by storm and suddenly Maritime is on everyone's radar. With a new lineup (and no longer a rotating collection of fantastically talented friends), they've managed to form an identity outside of their former projects; one without the pre-conceived hang ups. I mean, Pitchfork still took the time to mention - "If the third album's as sharp as this, then we can finally stop endorsing his singing as 'not whiny'." - but for the first time in forever, people are genuinely excited about Davey's output.

I for one couldn't be happier. Instead of trying to dig deep to find flaws with the songs, I've always embraced Davey and Dan Didier's work for what it is: insanely enjoyable. I remember seeing Maritime play the Horseshoe in Toronto (for 5 people) and wondering how people couldn't be all over the band. Adios was (and still is) one of the most addictive tracks I'd heard in years. Still, the Desoto release kind of toiled in obscurity and I wondered if the band was going to be able to make a go of it. The sophomore release, We, The Vehicles was a non-stop, hook filled affair that kept you dancing and almost forced you to sing along. The combination of simple guitar lines, straight forward drums and head nodding bass lines helped make the album one of the best of 2006.

So where does the new record - Heresy and the Hotel Choir - fit? Well, I've spent the better part of 48 hours with the CD on repeat and I'm glad to say that the record doesn't fit into any mold. Sure the energy and hooks are there, but the band tries so many new things with this record that the four-piece clearly differentiates itself from previous iterations of the band.

The record explodes out of the gate with the single Guns of Navarone. The track is classic Maritime. You still have the crunchy guitars, Davey's trademark vocals and Dan's driving drum beats to push the track along, but the strength of the new team members comes out and the sound is bigger and bolder. Adding the second guitar allows for more intricate guitar work, and while Justin Krug's bass work is not as adventurous as Axelson's can be, his notes help make this song catchy as hell.

But the record takes a distinct turn on With Holes for Thumb Sized Birds. Instead of intense compact, poppy pep, the marching band drums booming guitars expose another song writing notch in their collective belts. Davey's vocal match the grandiose scale of this anthem and the fuzzed out bass line and synth effects of For Science Fiction are new twists for the band, but the songs still somehow sounds comforting and familiar. The dueling guitars on Hand Over Hannover transport you back to the 90's when you were stoked with any release Jade Tree put out. The acoustic ballad - First Night on Earth - strips everything out except some static and simple keys and features some lovely harmonies. Without taking anything away from this great record, if you were simply waiting for We, The Vehicles II, you will be sort of disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. There are more than enough hooks to keep any fan happy (Pearl is infectious and the punk rock energy of Hours That You Keep is a stellar), but H & HC is the type of record that will expand in front of you with every listen. For every instantaneous guitar riff (Aren't We All Found Out) there's a hidden treasure (the fragility of Davey's vocals when he harmonizes on First Night on Earth, the pseudo ska sounds of Are We Renegade or the fuzzy contrast of Be Unhappy - which for the most part is a summery affair) that might slip by unnoticed on first pass. I hope that the lineup they've settled on sticks around for the long haul, because this might be the last time any critic or fan of Davey's chooses to looks back instead of forward.

MP3:: Guns of Navarone
MP3:: Calm (We, the Vehicles)

Maritime is opening up for J.E.W. on October 10th @ the Commodore.
web site :: myspace :: label :: more MP3s

Posted at 9:25 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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