One of the things one does not expect to hear when putting on a Dead Heart Bloom album is Built To Spill. Yet this is exactly what happens in the opening moments of Fall In, the new EP that finds the band throwing everything they can at the wall and seeing what sticks.
This shotgun-approach to style is almost always a recipe for disaster (I’m looking at you, My Morning Jacket), and it’s all the more egregious when the band in question has already settled into a winning formula. Dead Heart Bloom’s previous release, Chelsea Diaries [All of their albums are available for free on their site —Ed], was an intimate, string-heavy collection of acoustic songs that showcased Boris Skalsky’s beautiful vocals, all while tugging gently at the heartstrings.
From the opening feedback of “Is This The Way?”, it’s clear that the band is looking to change their methods, but all the reverb and Doug Martsch impersonating in the world can’t save the song from sounding tired and hackneyed. The head-scratching doesn’t stop there, as the next track, “Come Back”, finds the band sounding like a more shred-happy version of the Dandy Warhols.
Just as all seems lost, the real Dead Heart Bloom stand up and deliver a much-needed breath of fresh air with “Nothing Will Break Me Now”, a sublimely depressing tale of two broken-hearted lovers unable to let each embrace be their last. All the things that Dead Heart Bloom do best are there, from the uplifting string arrangements to Skalsky’s subtle harmonizing, and it does a lot to wash away the bad taste left by the first two tracks.
That good will is momentarily threatened by “Our Last Martyr”, which finds the band impersonating latter-day David Bowie, but the song bounds along so breezily that the band can be forgiven one last act of mimicry. Finally, we get one more taste of the real Dead Heart Bloom on “Here We Are”, a transcendent ballad of aching beauty. And as Skalsky sings “There’s a music yet to be made / to stop the aging of the old”, it serves as a reminder that Dead Heart Bloom have plenty of great music left to make, if only they would stop trying to fix an aesthetic that is far from broken.