Modest Mouse, Islands, The Shins, The Unicorns and Man Man are five very different bands. Each member of Mister Heavenly has played in at least one of them. Their styles have very little in common, so it makes sense that Mister Heavenly — the newest side project of Joe Plummer, Honus Honus and Nicholas Thorburn — would sound different as well, right? They’ve taken it a step further: they’re purveyors of doom-wop, a new subgenre of indie rock that takes its cues from the likes of The Cleftones and Frankie Valli.
Going on that description, Out of Love unfolds exactly as you’d expect, and those of you hoping to hear an album full of pummeling stompers like lead track “Bronx Sniper” are bound to be disappointed. The strangely compelling ferocity of “Bronx Sniper” is something of a red herring; it isn’t that intense anywhere else on the album. Next comes “I Am a Hologram,” whose title is repeated in the song and followed by “a modern version of a shell of a man.” It’s that disparaging attitude which keeps other parts of the album afloat where it should otherwise sink. “Is it too late to say that I want you/ More than a man/ Should ever admit to,” muses Honus Honus on “Reggae Pie,” and his raspy wail rings out with just the right level of despair to make such an all-or-nothing statement sound like it fits into the grooves.
So the good news is that Honus Honus, Joe Plummer and Nicholas Thorburn have some decent chemistry. But there are points where the songs simply aren’t strong enough for chemistry to be sufficient. Tracks that really embrace the ’50s aesthetic like “Diddy Eyes” and “Your Girl” are just cool ideas floating around in search of a narrative. The fine-tuned production has more in common with modern indie, but the melodies and vocal arrangements are pre-packed nostalgia for people who are too young to actually get nostalgic. It’s pleasant but not especially striking, and as a result the album trails off a little past the halfway mark. When they take doo-wop influence less seriously, like with the shuffling sunshine pop of “Charlyne,” they actually fair pretty well with it.
If we can move the supposed merits of doom-wop aside, when Mister Heavenly find their footing outside of the genre they’re hoping to help forge, they actually manage to make some pretty memorable music. But it’s now apparent that retro pop isn’t what these guys excel at. There’s half a very good album here, the rest is just a few clever musicians having some fun.