Lonesome Town is the debut EP from Johnny Jewel’s cryptic new project, Heaven. Jewel founded the Electro-indie label Italians Do It Better back in 2006, and since then it has spawned such acts as Chromatics and Glass Candy. Certainly, Jewel has established himself as a key figure in the American Electronic music landscape.
Blending Jewel’s characteristically nostalgic analogue synthesizers with otherworldly female vocals, Heaven’s collaboration with the prolific producer has given birth to a record so sweetly melancholic it makes Lana Del Rey look like Rick Astley.
The opening track “Not Enough” characterises the entire record perfectly. It consumes the senses in a wash of evocative, cinematic melody, whilst at the same time applying a minimalistic, yet densely textured quality to the production and instrumentation of the track as a whole. We are plunged into a murky world of pining melancholy with the words: “It’s not enough, baby“.
From here on out, the track conjures up iridescent colours which float and flicker as the layers of thick piano chords and analogue drum samples attempt to preserve their constancy. However, with a crumbling descent into a swirling, glacial pool of synthesised gloom, Heaven deny the melody its hopeful climax, allowing for a track which captures that indescribable feeling of reaching for something you just can’t-quite-grasp in the most beautifully ephemeral way.
“Lock And Key“, takes us to a darker and far more haunting realm. Two monosyllabic cries jut out of the darkness that the last track so abruptly left us in. These vocals, saturated with reverb, create a sense of expanse; which once combined with the restrained and subtle use of drum samples, evoke a feeling of isolation.
On this track, Heaven seem to reveal a desire to insulate the listener, to detach us. The contrast formed between the heavily electronic, effects driven instrumentation and the haunting, nursery rhyme-esque vocal style, generates a sense of displacement which is gradually put to rest by the ambient harmonies which Heaven’s multi-layered synth lines induce.
However “Blood On The Tracks” marks a shift in the record. We are taken outside of the lonely mansion Lonesome Town seems to inhabit and, for the first time, hear the delicate American accent of the vocalist, until this point disguised by melody, but now replaced with a harmonious spoken word poetry.
The rising string pads which open this song imply a curiosity, a desire for more. They push us out of bed, down the stairs, and out into the world. Here, we can begin to re-connect, to abandon the blanket of melancholic isolation which has wrapped us so tightly thus far.
We hear the words: “When the rain falls, I hold out my arms to feel each drop soak in” and a new chapter of this musical story seems to begin. On this track, Heaven demonstrate an ability to create music which lives and breathes. The frequencies of the instruments oscillate constantly, mimicking the sound of the wind as it twists around our speaker.
Likewise, the sharp pulses of analogue synth seems to imitate the pitta-patter of falling rain. As the lyrical emphasis on bodily imagery continues throughout the track, the mind conjures up visions of a human form, gradually taking shape as the words uttered and music composed gives it life in the mind of the listener.
The title track of the record, “Lonesome Town“, seems to reflect the atmosphere of each previous track. Once this song bursts into life, it feels as if everything we’ve heard until this point has been preparing us for it to arrive.
It combines the desperate melancholy evoked in “Not Enough” and “Lock And Key”, with the meditative atmosphere of “Blood On The Tracks”. This characterises “Lonesome Town” as perhaps the most accessible track on the record, one which treads the line between melancholic dream-pop and 80’s electro with ease.
Concluding the EP is an instrumental version of the opening track “Not Enough”, whilst this does strike me as a somewhat half-hearted way to end a record, it does allow Heaven’s Electro-pop creation to take on an almost cyclical quality, perfectly linking up the EP from start to finish and allowing for the record to form a never ending cycle, reflecting Heaven’s lyrical emphasis on a yearning to escape loneliness and melancholy.
Through This, Heaven have managed to create an EP which is more than just a collection of sombre melodies, but a story of isolation from which it is seemingly impossible to escape. Heaven’s Lonesome Town is out now via Italians Do It Better, purchase it here, and stream it on Spotify below.
Words by Sam Kemp