Heavens, for the uninitiated, is the side project of Alkaline Trio’s front man Matt Skiba and multi-instrumentalist and former member of F-Minus Josiah Steinbrick on synthesizers and “arrangements.” Their debut album Patent Pending, produced by Ben Lovett is nearly the complete opposite of Alkaline Trio, with more of a Brit-pop, electro clash sound, whereas Alkaline Trio is top heavy in hardcore and screamo influences. Heavens releases a different beast in Skiba and Steinbrick, unlike anything they have composed before.
The first track “Gardens” takes one back to early New Order and The Cure with avant pop atmosphere and electro-pop psychedelics. The aural display is a sonic liberation of echoing channels and vocals that exercise their expansive ranges and low-key registers. The atmosphere is smoky, similar to that of Yo La Tengo, and have a transparent film that is malleable to Steinbrick’s touch. There is a great deal of production work done on these tracks partly due to the additions of session drummer Matthew Compton and mixer Ryan Hewitt. The drum beats range from tapping to club beats but never reach full-on house thumps. In fact, many of the tracks like “Counting” and “Dead End Girl” have a prog-sound, reminiscent of Muse. Skiba’s vocals also have a similar key and range to Muse’s lead singer Matthew Bellamy, while we’re on the subject.
The ambient dewdrops and layers of synth arrangements have a likeness to Doves and Depeche Mode. The electro-scapes on “Heather” are elegant with pirouettes of violins along synth projections. The title track has flashing tones and layers of synth sequences making pauses intermittently to allow other lines to go ahead of them. The lyrics have dark images exposing pus-filled wounds like in the song “Another Night” when Skiba sings, “They left you with nothing/ They left me for dead.”
The notes are sustained on an elevated level but the vocal register and lyrics sink to some of the lower levels of humankind. In this way there is a Gothic impression in the songs loomed into the melodic senses, particularly on the vocal placements for the number “Annabelle.” These songs are introverted, acting as reflecting pools for human thoughts, moving in swirling motions that don’t go anywhere, they just stay in the center of the trance. The electro-pop currents are on “Watching You” and “Leave” are nicely balanced and have an airy aspect like Jason Pierce’s Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. They are very much a backdrop for human thoughts and behavior.
Heavens displays very different musical traits from Alkaline Trio and yet, somehow, both bands are cut from the same bread, mostly in their Gothic impressions. In Heavens, the squealing guitars are replaced by aerial violins and the digging drum crackles are replaced by light club beats. But Skiba does sing in a more natural state with Heavens. Rather than forcing his voice to have power, he has found power in a more sedate setting.