The Hearts in Light
The 93-minute, 22-track double album (on both CD and vinyl) Ascend from Chattanooga’s The Hearts in Light— centered on the husband-and-wife duo of Kyle Malone and Stacey Sausa, plus bassist Seth Ferguson—is a virtually unclassifiable beast: a song-cycle featuring a new age spirituality, a pro-environment attitude, a fiercely anti-authoritarian political stance, a science fiction love story, an obsession with dolphins, and mystical prophecies surrounding the year 2012. If you need a pithy statement, here’s one: Greenpeace makes an electro-pop album. With Ron Paul. And a princess from Mars. And a dolphin.
Some may find just the idea of such a sprawling and complicated concept album to be ridiculous, but make no mistake—there is not a shred of ironic distance in the delivery. The group is clearly serious about its music, although that doesn’t mean that the album is wholly serious. Playfulness abounds on Ascend, with animal sound effects, Malone’s distinctive singing and synthesized “world music” infusions.
One of the band’s clear influences are the Beach Boys, most apparent on the closing track “Lovebirdz,” particularly with its vocal flourishes. The sequenced arrangements and embrace of artificiality (think synth pan flutes and organs) make the album at times reminiscent of the soundtrack of the video game “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”
Undoubtedly, the group has sweated over the making of this album, and they deserve kudos for presenting their own unique vision clearly; one can’t help but admire their spunk, and among the album’s noteworthy features are a willingness to explore and Sausa’s pretty soul-pop vocals. However, the band’s new age musical aesthetic is not exactly this writer’s cup of tea, although I will admit to having a soft spot for the early ’90s dance-pop vibe emanating from tracks like “Ascension (I Have a Deer Heart).”
It’s an ambitious album—one that sports lyrics like “dolphin crystals glow in moonlight” along with references to an “evil agenda” and a discussion of fiat currency—and while it’s playing, this writer can’t help but be compelled to smile.
The Hearts in Light will play a record release show for Ascend on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Barking Legs Theater.
The Go-Betweens never quite got their due here in the States, faring much better in the United Kingdom and their homeland of Australia, although insiders know the outfit as an important proto-indie-pop group, anchored by the songwriting team of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, who passed away in 2006. They’re one of those bands that words can’t do justice, just as mere descriptions of such bands as Galaxie 500 or The Bat can seem underwhelming, since they all rely on a subtle kind of energy and mood and not flash.
At the core of what makes The Go-Betweens so special is a hard-to-capture vividness, solid songwriting, memorable hooks and a warm, sincere delivery. The new career-spanning two-CD compilation, Quiet Heart, covering 1978 through 2005, replaces the previous 1999 compilation, Bellavista Terrace, with a better song selection and quality work from the band’s later years.
Fan favorites “Spring Rain” and “Head Full of Steam” from Liberty Belle and Black Diamond Express are obvious and apt choices, plus the easy-to-love girl/boy jangle of “Right Here” from Tallulah. 16 Lovers Lane is amply covered with the collection’s title track, the reflective, kinetic motion of “Streets of Your Town” and “Love Goes On!” And the post-reunion period of 2000 through 2005 gets a fair representation here as well.
While the first disc of Quiet Heart covers studio material. The second disc, Vienna Burns–Live 1987, features a decently recorded though not particularly spectacular show notable for the prominent presence of violinist Amanda Brown. Fans may quibble about the tracklist of, but Quiet Heart it serves as the best introduction to this underrated group, whose best material absolutely stands up to the test of time and repeated listening.