Bands are usually one thing or another. They either rock out with roaring guitars, beguile you with catchy melodies or awe you with the majesty of rich, soaring arrangements. Heavenly States is rare in that they're capable of all three.
The San Francisco quartet's self-titled debut is assured and well written, with echoes of everything from the hypnotic jangle of Wedding Present ("Senseless Beauty") to the rich, quirky indie pop of early Built To Spill ("The Story Of") to early '90s indie rock of the Swirlies or Superchunk ("Car Wash," "New Parade"). Strings are a crucial aspect of the band's sound, in particular Genevieve Gagon's violin playing, which lends an Irish flavor to the swooning album opener of "The Story Of." On moody, slow motion set pieces such as "Empire," keyboards create a gentle bed in which guitarist Ted Nesseth lowers his soft guitar and airy vocals, sinking in beneath an ethereality that recalls the Radar Brothers. There are some wonderful boy/girl harmonies here as well, highlighted by the loping "My Friends," whose acoustic strum slinks alongside a buttressing cello and vibrating organ line, emitting plumes of screeching guitar pyrotechnics during the break, then settling back into its laconic crawl abreast finger-plucked strings as Gagon and Nesseth harmonize the final lines. Despite the band's eclectic touchstones, the album's tone is remarkably consistent, transitioning easily from soaring to driving too infectious without losing the musical point.