With the current overwhelming glut of agonisingly average indie bands, Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki arrives like a cold shower in the arid desert of contemporary guitar music. Thunderous and delicate, heartfelt and detached, Desert Hearts defy an easy pigeonhole with as many influences as you could shake a stick at.
Don’t be fooled by any of the fragile melodies trickling out of your speakers. Desert Hearts like to lullaby people into a created state of tender lament before drop-kicking a wall of guitar noise into their face. The Belfast trio have finally returned with Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki after 2002’s triumphant debut Lets Get Worse.
Hailed by the music press and achieving instant cult success, Desert Hearts were one of those bands who made you feel like you were in on something, which had something to do with the intimate atmosphere that pervades the first album.
Their second album is one of accomplished song writing, however it achieves so much more than this. Charley Mooney’s talent lies in the crafting of an atmosphere. The album is one of subtle, and sometimes startlingly large, contrasts. Desert Hearts have that rare ability to knock you off your balance ever so slightly with a direction that you wouldn’t expect, but one that seems to work effortlessly well.
A fine example of this is Black Albino, a tight, electro punk creation in which we’re treated to a shouty Charley tossing out profanities – “I’m armour plated, motherfucker! – shortly before a barrage of cascading mariachi horns are introduced. Trust me it works.
This anger is definitely not the resounding sentiment of Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki, however. Sugary-sweet at times, Urchin sounds like a twinkling cave of crystals played by an uncertain hand. Charley’s lyrics are also uncertain on this instance, mingling apathy with a sense of regret. All this is topped off with a knowingly muted trumpet section.
The rest of the band complement the sound aptly, with Roisin Stewart’s bass serving as the driving axis behind many of the outfits rockier moments, notably the instant classic Sea Punk. Fuelled by Roisin’s hammering bass, this is neatly juxtaposed by Charley’s lyrics, comprising of a wide-eyed lament to nothingness. All before the sliding guitar melodies race to an impenetrable climax which builds up beyond breaking point before collapsing in on itself.
The album takes another swerve with the lurching folk of Bone song, which sounds like it should be accompanied by a smiling drunk with a tear inhis eye. Full of sweet, nostalgic sorrow that bursts into a rueful yet energetic conclusion, and comes replete with a final supersonic guitar explosion.
With this release Desert Hearts have proven themselves to be increasingly more accessible while still retaining an individuality often found lacking within other bands of similar genre. Hopefully we won’t have to wait so long for album number three.