Over There That Way
Reviewed by: Geno Thackara
What decade is this again? Is it 2016, 1989 or maybe 1961? Heliotropes’ second release can’t quite seem to make up its mind – which surprisingly turns out mostly to the good. They have a taste for dream-pop psychedelia and shoegaze as much as classic surf tunes or doo-wop. The sound remains quaintly lo-fi and almost hypnotic. No guitar can be too reverbed or too over-driven for this crew. This album/EP (what’s the rule for classifying something barely above half an hour?) blends all those things so naturally it’s almost unnatural, also adding a coat of gloom and the kind of trippy streak you’d expect from a band named after purple plants.
Frontwoman Jessica Numsuwankijkul is apparently a big World War buff, which provides a recurring theme to represent some personal issues she’s been dealing with lately. The short bookend tracks both deal with sadness and permanent endings. She has an arresting duet with backup guitarist Ricci Swift in the title song, and their back-and-forth would almost be haunting if it didn’t sound so much like an old spy-movie theme. You could set a playlist (or Spotify stream or whatever else the kids use these days) to shuffle the American Graffiti soundtrack alongside Best Coast and My Bloody Valentine, or you could just cue up Over There That Way and get much the same result.
For delivering such emotional lyrics, Numsuwankijkul’s nondescript vocal drone turns out to be surprisingly effective as often as not. She chants through “War Isn’t Over” as angrily as the title suggests, but a familiar surf-pop rhythm chugs underneath to make it sound almost fun. The attention-grabbing love song “Wherever You Live” goes straight for classic golden-oldie nostalgia complete with Motown sax, then slathers on enough echo to make it suited to a dim basement club more than a school dance-floor. This tricky balance of tones stays in play throughout – and most of the songs still somehow make it work. The genus Heliotropium consists of plants that gradually turn toward the sun, after all, and underneath it all this band generally manages to do the same.