Yes, it’s another dreamy guitar pop album from a dude who used to be in Beach Fossils. You’ve heard this one before, I know. It was only a mere month ago that Brooklyn-based indie rock label Captured Tracks was parading about their most recent in ’80s indebted jangle-rock in the form of DIIV’s debut LP Oshin. Aside from the obvious similarity in the origins of the project, John Pena just recently announced his departure from the band that DIIV’s Cole Smith still calls home, there’s the sonic similarities as well. We have the reverb coated vocals, guitar lines ripped straight from the pages of the likes of post-punk progenitors The Wake, and the general sense that you’re listening to every dream pop album made in the post-millenial era. To stop there would obviously be unfairly dismissive of the landmark efforts of Smith’s cracked kraut inflected work on Oshin, so to do the same here with Pena’s debut LP would be similarly foolish.
So ditch all those preconceived notions. This is a Beach Fossils affiliated release, but this sure isn’t Beach Fossils and this sure isn’t DIIV. From even the opening strains of the sunny “Lust,” we’re clued into this painfully obvious fact. Where Smith’s departure from Beach Fossils was met with angst ridden instrumentals dripping with the influence of Cobain and the downtrodden loneliness of Jandek, Pena mines textures far removed from the work of his compatriots. While Smith’s tracks conjured the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of the cramped apartment that spawned the recordings, Pena here reaches way out into the open. The slow sigh of the string samples that lace early single “Messiah” work as a flowing meadow to the dank creakiness of the DIIV record. And so it goes. The breeziness of any previous Captured Tracks work is dwarfed by Talent. Even in Pena’s reliance on programmed drums, the expansiveness of the arrangements rival the shoegaze greats (your Rides and your Slowdives). Pena has accomplished no small feat in making the pulse of electronic kicks sound downright ethereal on tracks like “Elite” and “Tradition.”
Elsewhere we’re met with compositions that while no less enveloping suffer for their triteness. Though the subtle tropicalia of tracks like “Tolerance” isn’t atypical of the release as a whole, Pena toes the line between groundbreaking and terribly misguided. He’s crafted a record that while heavy on mood and good vibes is lacking as far as actual songcraft goes. Sometimes seventh chords and synthesized steel drums aren’t enough to legitimize attempts at the sort laid back music Pena attempts. “Presence” too, in it’s underwater approximations of acoustic Beck tracks could be seen as detracting from the album on the whole, but again it seems like the sort of album where any single track doesn’t really hold up to intense scrutiny. When listened from a distance, the record is an interesting fit into the pantheon of the ever-growing Captured Tracks discography, but on close inspection, any real marker of why this album holds that status falls away.
Obviously, that’s not to say that this album is a waste of your time. The immediacy of the aforementioned “Messiah” and the slow burning string stabs and vocal samples of “Influence” are enough to provide substance to the album. Talent, when taken as a whole unit, functions exceedingly well as an album to scratch your daily dream pop itch, but when you try to take it as anything more than that it suffers. As mentioned earlier, it was just recently announced that Pena has left his post as Beach Fossils’ resident bass thumper in order to focus on this Heavenly Beat project full time. What this means for Beach Fossils time will only tell, but with the added care and attention that Pena will likely give future Heavenly Beat work, coupled with the success of Talent as a whole, the project can only trend upward from here. Heavenly Beat may not yet have it’s defining single but if Talent is any indication, it isn’t too far off.