Heavenly Beat - Talent
How is it that Heavenly Beat still feel fresh despite forming in the latter part of 2009? Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that other than his 7" single debut 'Suday', John Pena, who is Heavenly Beat, has rarely ventured outside of his bedroom. Being left unmoved and uninfluenced by the outside world seems to have paid off for the Texan, allowing him to make both humungous strides in the Blogosphere and an impression on an ever-respondent proletariat. Riding a wave of momentum insinuated by the success of singles 'Suday' and 'Faithless', Pena decided that it was just about time to emerge from his pit, with freshmen album Talent in tow.
Trudging through Heavenly Beat's press release whilst re-familiarising myself with their back catalogue was a funny enough journey. In the script there are lines that poke fun at artists trying to "ape" themselves "to gain wide acceptance" (I know), promises that are made to "attractive people," and the odd spelling mistake – I was tickled. However, above all it gave me some peculiar urges. The rich melodies and organic instrumentation made me crave Skip Bifferty, the complex arrangements are weighed against shards of Burt Bacharach, and part of me believes these songs could've been written at a Linn LM-1 Drum Machine. So, after a coffee – I slipped into my kimono and prepared myself for Heavenly Beat's next step.
Talent is a condensed, tidy record. It pulsates and twists, allowing Pena's instantly identifiable sweet falsetto to drive the songwriting and to create windows where you can see further into what are meticulous pieces. Soon enough, 'Lust', 'Messiah' and 'Faithless' have passed and we're a third of the way through. The opening three songs are very much cut from the same cloth; emerging before the other has a chance to close, the most memorable feature being the interrogation of the messiah, asking 'is this the love?' Pena wears his heart firmly on his sleeve, quipping away to his back-beat, using metaphor as frequently as a school teacher brushes their teeth.
If Talent follows a trend, it's that it benefits when variation is shown. Though atmospheric, the arrangements create an anthropogenic, relentless foundation for the songwriting, and when the dynamics are allowed to fluctuate more, the tracks benefit – a perfect example being 'Tolerance', where Pena "talks about his faults" and everything is allowed to relax for the first time. You could even cite that when the instrumentation is extended and changed, a nice moment emerges; the vibraphone on 'Elite' is twee and creamy, whilst the title track 'Talent' is almost a pastiche obligating to the beaches of Costa Del Sol. Maybe John Pena owes something in his vocal style to Bradford Cox, with his performance on 'Hurting' sounding like it could be part of Deerhunter's Weird Era Continued.
When you set about writing or releasing a record with eleven songs that are all no longer than 3:49, you are making a choice about the kind of album you want to release. However, when each song is so similar, you lose the advantage of ripping through songs like pages in a notepad to maintain high attention levels. Part of me was screaming out for the more expansive moments of the album to continue. I'm sure that was a desired effect but some songs would've benefitted from more development and, like stew, it felt like lifespan could have helped with that.
One thing about Talent is that it possesses an encapsulating dialogue. Pena packs his songs with colloquial conversation, unison vocal harmony for emphasis and softly spoken messages of desperation. One of the album's defining songs 'Hurting', pleas for you to "take his hand" – whilst you've heard he's "hurting for a change." There's certainly nothing groundbreaking here, and these aren't the best lyrical moments on Talent but paired with the temper of the song, it leaves the rare imprint of honesty.
Much can be discovered when commenting on the fine distinctions of songwriting and, when you look at Talent objectively, it's by far it's most important feature. For somebody who pays such little attention to the world around him, John Pena has ended up sounding fairly similar to what's about at the moment, but there's a strength in his sincerity. Modern pop lyricists can churn out as many songs as they want in the mirror, they still won't be able to capture that. Whilst commonly undeveloped and undercharged, Talent is a solid foundation, and a record I'll be listening to more.