Melodic yet cerebral, catchy but never canned, This Blue Heaven has exorcised the pose from pop, ascending to an awesome afterlife somewhere between introspection and celebration with their much-anticipated debut album Quicksandglass.
This Blue Heaven’s fateful origins can be traced back to a Boston pub where Iowan transplant MacKenzie Outlund ended up across a table from guitarist and Nebraska native Stu Dietz. Dietz divulged that his band at the time, which included keyboardist Aaron Rosenthal, was in transition. They were looking for a new sound. A couple beers later and Outlund let it slip that her high school class had voted her Most Likely to Be a Rock Star. Dietz half-jokingly suggested a karaoke bar audition. What he got instead was a homemade recording sent by the singer the very next day. It was stirring.
Emanating both strength and vulnerability, Outlund’s voice is about as honest and intimate as one is likely to hear in an age stocked with American Idol apostles and shrink-wrapped Top 40 hits. When she opens the high-spirited “Bliss” with an easy, You know the feeling, you felt it once before, listeners will instantly recognize the sensibility and relate to the singer.
Bassist Mark Desrosiers, who joined veteran drummer Brandon Erdos to form the rhythm section of the fledgling group, describes Outlund’s sound in simpler terms: “Like Madonna if she studied harder.”
Five deep and armed with a set’s worth of songs, This Blue Heaven hit the streets, landing regular gigs and a loyal following at clubs throughout New England in no time. Like jangle pop evangelists, the quintet coaxed their congregations from the pews and into the aisles with danceable, thought-provoking tunes and theatrical performances.
Clearly, a torch had been passed from the likes of The Police and U2 to This Blue Heaven, a group who has done the saintly thing of picking up where early 80's music left off (before video actually did kill the radio star) by incorporating the less tweedy elements of folk with old-school UK new wave. Add to that the indie rock earnestness of new millennial acts like Rilo Kiley and Death Cab for Cutie, and This Blue Heaven has forged an audible identity all their own.
“We wanted a sound dynamic enough to express the stories our songs have to tell,” explains Rosenthal. “We like to juxtapose certain sounds – droning synths with swaggering bass lines or echoey guitars over disco dance beats – to shape the emotional terrain under our lyrics.”
The resulting vibe resonated with people, none more important than Boston-area producer David Messier of Same Sky Productions. Messier immediately booked This Blue Heaven at his studio and piloted the group through the meticulous recording of Quicksandglass. “Everything had to be hooky,” says Dietz. “Our goal was for people to be able to sing along to the record -- not just the lyrics but the guitar, bass, even the drums. With David we pored over every note, every part, trying to create as much melody as possible.”
The final product is a refined collection of 12 tracks that, when considered as a whole, impart a temporal tale. It’s about time. It’s about reckoning with regrets while letting loose of the past. It’s a longing for the way things were, an agreement with the present, a lowered shoulder to what lies ahead.
Take “Innocent Again.” Lyrics penned by Dietz about entering adulthood and urban claustrophobia reckon with the loss of childhood simplicity. Losing myself sitting on a train/Same trip every single day, calling out their games/Pretending I am not one of them/But I am yes I am, who’s the fool then?/Why can’t we all be innocent again?
In “As Ever As Always,” Outlund describes the lure of dreams not quite forgotten in a lyrical style full of Midwestern expansiveness. Moon lights the grass on a distant hill, you once lay beneath that tree/Now the house is cold and still, but your hair’s still woven with leaves/Beyond your walls, through endless blue, comes a voice that knows your name/It whispers all your dreams to you and sets your heart aflame.
Solemn or silly, heartbreaking or happy or even a little apprehensive, each offering on Quicksandglass tells a true story listeners can hum to. It’s what This Blue Heaven is all about. They recognize the sublime in the world of five senses, making intelligent music that doesn’t sound like a thesis so that others might see it as well. Call them otherworldly, but they’d probably say that’s not the high praise most believe it to be. Maybe all the good that’s to be got is here in this blue heaven.