Published on July 27th, 2016 | by John0
Review: Heaters | Baptistina
I’m not sure how I first discovered Heaters’ music, but I immediately loved the Mean Green single and various other bits I could find on Bandcamp, especially via the gloriously named label Beyond Beyond is Beyond.
Last year’s Holy Water Pool album was immediately hoovered up. Everything broadly conformed to a surf-infused, propulsive, and exhilarating fuzzy take on rock music presented in uniform three- or four-minute capsules. The album hung together like many early ‘60s psych long-players as a collection of miniatures.
I was quickly sucked in, and delighted to hear that the band were embarking on a European tour. And much to my joy, playing my home-town of Edinburgh (most seem not to notice the Scottish Capital on any tours of the UK).
…the whole sound felt like they could stop playing and you’d still have five minutes of sonic debris slowly dissolving into the air…
To help fund the tour, the band dropped an EU-only single comprising Garden Eater and Dali. Although both tracks appear on the new album Baptistina, this earlier version of Garden Eater remains, in my opinion, the single best track this Grand Rapids band have created to date. It was an almost eight-minute-long signpost confirming that Heaters were heading somewhere familiar, but tantalisingly new.
And seeing them play live, the familiar forms of the music were way more mangled and tactile. Guitar lines sounded like vocals, vocals sounded like guitars, the whole sound felt like they could stop playing and you’d still have five minutes of sonic debris slowly dissolving into the air. Slab after slab of chugging, primitive grooviness.
Raving about the performance in the street after the gig with a friend only highlighted how much my ears had been fried. I grinned for days—Baptistina was going to be something to look forward to.
But hearing that a group you really like is releasing new music is always something that inspires a mixture of excitement and panic. As an avid listener, am I looking for more of the same, or some sort of evolution? I’m always a bit anxious that somehow, new material might carve out a cleaner sound, or make some other “improvement”. The pizza box drum-kits and tracks scraped off an ancient answering-machine approach gets replaced with string quartets, and actually hearing separate instruments recorded in a “proper studio”.
Far from being against bands evolving, I’m excited when I see them pushing the form without making concessions to creating a more accepted mainstream sound. Of course, all this says more about me as a passionate listener that loves a degree of technical clumsiness (or should I say inventiveness?) than how musicians themselves might approach making a new body of work.
Something else I often think about is how quickly has the musician made their statement. How important is the fundamental requirement to send this new chunk of sound/message into the world?
Several of these newest tracks quickly materialised in late-night sessions, squeezed between touring commitments.
Bill Callahan’s [of Smog] comment, “All musician improvise, but just at different speeds,” illustrates the point better than I can. How far has the band or musician x travelled from the idea to the final version? How much fussing and potentially less vital are the final cuts from the messy demos?
As far as Heaters go, one of their real strong points has been the sense of immediacy to their sound. Always giving a sense that things are live in the studio using an economy of means. And it’s true that several of these newest tracks quickly materialised in late-night sessions, squeezed between touring commitments.
This album’s name is suggestive as well. Baptistina was a family of asteroids that, after smashing into various celestial bodies, may have been responsible for the massive chunk of rock that smashed into planet Earth, causing the calamitous demise of the dinosaurs.
Everything that you might expect to hear from Heaters is present on this new album, but this time, there seems to be a more exploratory approach. Several tracks follow a similar trajectory to previous stuff, but it’s interesting to see where new things have been attempted. There is a suggestion of a more electronic structure in parts, a tiny bit of added complexity, but not in such a way that loses that fuzzy-amp vibe.
While the whole apparently derivative nature of modern rock music invites you to ponder who this or that track sounds like, I genuinely feel this group are carving up their own groove.
Baptistina feels more like collection of ideas rather than a collection of songs. Mango picks up were The Byrds Old John Robertson left off, allowing itself to be engulfed by a massive psychedelic wave. Orbs and Turkish Gold both feel like sketched-out ideas, passages of a spaced-out ambience that could easily grow into more realised forms or bounce around unresolved for days.
The album’s centrepiece Garden Eater is a newer version, and for me, it’s lost a little of the spaceiness and layering of sounds from the earlier, superior version.
The album ends with Seafoam, which throws the listener back into a sequence from some obscure trippy surf film.
Heaters have, in an unbelievably short time, cultivated a unique garage rock sound. While the whole apparently derivative nature of modern rock music invites you to ponder who this or that track sounds like, I genuinely feel this group are carving up their own groove.
During the time I’ve spent listening to Baptistina, I’ve often done caught myself thinking, “Who does this remind me of?” And I kept coming back to Ash Ra Tempel. That’s not a lazy joining-of-dots based on the fact Heaters are also a three-piece, or that they sound anything like each other, it’s just that they seem really focussed on getting the most out of a minimal setup and are happy to create wormholes in the racket they create. And I’m sure that this new material, in a live setting, will be as sprawling as it will be unmissable.
Baptistina finds Heaters growing in confidence and incorporates new tangents and strategies. Like anything that throws in a dose of experimentalism, some things will fall a bit flat. While nothing is a failure as such on this album, in my book, all the best artists and musicians adopt this non-precious approach. In that spirit, it’s yet another reason I continue to enthuse about them.
Dinosaur asteroids or not, you can’t help but plug into Heaters and see where they will point their noise next.
Baptistina is up for pre-order now at Beyond Beyond is Beyond and is set for official release on August 5.