Album Review: Fine Place – This New Heaven

[Night School; 2021]

The necessity of dystopias is an easy argument to make. What better way to make us realise how good we have it (in a relative sense) by showing us how life could be? Be it a dark Black Mirror-esque change to society as we already live it, or a full Cormac McCarthy bleak, grey world, escapism into these alternate realities help bolster our connection to the here and now.

Sometimes these societal switches come to reality, as was the case in New York during the pandemic. With the wealthy instead opting to live out the lockdown elsewhere, the famously bustling and rammed streets of the city were left deserted and empty.

This image was the base in which Fine Place began work. A coming together of Frankie Rose and Matthew Hord, the New York duo sought to explore new sound worlds from their other outfits (Rose was part of Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, and Dum Dum Girls whereas Hort is part of Running, Pop. 1280, and Brandy). The result is This New Heaven, a chilly, dark, and modestly alluring record that offers an escape into what feels like a different world, all while takes elements from all the duo’s experience and sounds and blending them until the result is a thick, molasses-like consistency.

While the setting might very much feel like nighttime for the eight tracks here, the sense of foreboding isn’t always directly heavy and menacing. Opening track “I Can’t Shake It” presents a desolate, brooding atmosphere, all wispy vocals like ghosts in alleyways and heart rate monitor beeps showing the occasional sign of life somewhere. Rose and Hort relish in these empty streets though, sounding like they are making the most of this newfound space. With its snarling guitar, the title track sounds like a fast drive through the empty streets, the track somewhere between a nod to the Italians Do It Better/Johnny Jewel noir style and Kavinsky’s nocturnal electronic driving anthems. Come the other end of the album, “Tell Me A Second Time” returns to this tone, synths humming like old TVs left in empty shops, washes of reversed noise fraying like electrical wires, and percussion reverberating like it’s being played in an empty factory.

Elsewhere there are surprising shafts of light that appear. “Impressions of Me” feels oddly familiar, like a song by The Cure or Cocteau Twins heard in the background at a gig years ago, but the bright keys and airy vocals veer into heavenly territory, like watching the sun rise after a long night. Elsewhere the wispy “Tending to Twenty” evokes a certain Pantha du Prince charm with it’s chattering hi-hats and shimmering bell-like percussion. Amidst it all Rose’s wordless voice comes and goes, like a detached entity.

Album highlight “It’s Your House” takes the prize for the most curious form of light though. Painting a strangely domestic scene with lyrics (“how’s your day gone?”), synths expand and contract like waves ebbing and flowing, like an offshoot from Silent Shout. When all of Rose’s vocal takes start layering the effect is strangely transfixing and feels like the project’s potential is fully realised.

Even when the album isn’t reaching its most lucid and arresting moments, it still manages to complete its aim. This New Heaven captures a dystopian empty street feel through an industrial/minimalist approach, and once you’re tuned into its frequency, it has a way of keeping you there comfortably. No track overstays its welcome, nor dazzles too blindingly, making for a record that might not change anyone’s end of year lists, but will perhaps warrant a nod in the honourable mentions section if you are so inclined towards the nocturnal ghost town atmosphere. Your penchant for dystopia might well speak to how much you get out of This New Heaven, but at the very least the simple act of escapism is definitely to be found here.