Oh say, have you heard of The Heavenly States? In a world of bad band names, they got a good one. And the name tells you something about the music: The Heavenly States are not afraid to be beautiful. They're not averse to a great hook. They're very open to "oooh-aah" backing vocals that just sound good. They're not trying to be clever, they just want to rock. Oh, yeah, honey Â– The Heavenly States will rock you ... maybe not like a hurricane, but they will rock you like a tropical storm: heavy at times, fading into a spooky calm, with plenty of atmosphere. Does anybody in this post-Katrina world really want to be rocked like a hurricane anymore?
I remember when I first heard The Clash. I had built them up to be the hardest-rocking punks in history, and boy was I surprised. They were melodic, danceable, even. What a shock! Yet I understood where their punk cred came in: it was in their attitude toward the music: hard and coarse. Most of all, it was Joe Strummer's voice (and Mick Jones's, depending on the song). These were voices that were untaught and untamed.
The Heavenly States are similar in that they create these lovely songs with great hooks and then Ted Nesseth, the lead singer, just wails in front of 'em full bore. "Borderline" is a good example. With an upbeat guitar and drum riff, it sounds at first like it could bop its way into the latest post-punk single, then WHAM! Nesseth's voice comes in, raw as a big, glistening slab of toro sashimi (and just as satisfying). Did I mention the flying violin figure that shores the whole song up? It's the best use of violin in a pop song since Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen." Joe Strummer, Ted Nesseth, and Tom Waits are all masters of the same musical trick: you can write a sweet, even sentimental song, and as long as you sing it rough it won't sound corny. "The Witness," the last song on Black Comet, is a case in point.
With a name like The Heavenly States they can only hail from one place. That's right, Oakland, U.S.A. Some of them reside in a -- not exactly a garage -- more like a carriage house, and that's a good genre for them: a carriage-house band. More sophisticated than a garage band (and much better musicianship), but still funky.
They just came off a tour of the greater Midwest and found fans wherever they played. And they've played some crazy places. Like, for example: Libya. Seriously, The Heavenly States were the first band to play Libya ever and if you don't believe me, just wait a few months because they filmed it all and it will be released sometime this fall. If you can't wait that long, check out the Libya travelogue posted on their website.
Watch this space for more on Borderline, a.k.a. the Libya movie. In the meantime, listen to Black Comet and get yourself some good old fashioned East Bay Carriage-House Rock. Make sure you add that genre to your iPod, because you're going to end up getting their earlier albums, too.