New Orleans’ Generationals return in a haze of skittish, world-inflected indie-pop with Heza, the band’s third full-length release. The guitar-wielding duo of Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner formed Generationals in 2008, after the other three members of their previous band The Eames Era (best known for their 2005 single Could Be Anything) decided not to pursue their burgeoning musical careers. The pair seem to have been set free by the shedding of superfluous band members, releasing since then a string of infectiously sprightly singles of the kind that companies such as Amazon and Starbucks like to use in their adverts and marketing.
If Heza sounds faintly familiar upon first listen, it’s because it consists almost entirely of the sort of music used in Kindle adverts. (Incidentally, the track When They Fight, They Fight from the band’s previous album Actor-Caster was actually used in a Kindle advert. So there you go.) Along with The Black Keys, Generationals are one of the bands you can blame if you’re sick of hearing the sort of relentlessly cheery, accessibly edgy indie-pop that seems to provide the soundtrack for everything from blockbuster rom-coms to mayonnaise commercials at the moment: musically, they’re not the worst perpetrators, but they’ve definitely helped set the ball rolling for this frankly irritating trend.
On paper, then, Heza should be unbearable: a whole album’s worth of vaguely twee indie carefully calculated to prick at the ears of marketing departments everywhere. But somehow, it isn’t. If you can get past the nagging sense that the music should really be accompanied by videos of attractive young people using electronic gadgets in direct sunlight, what you’ll find is a genuinely lovely and consistently catchy album that only the flintiest-hearted cynics could find it in themselves to put down.
In common with Vampire Weekend’s second album Contra, Heza owes a sizeable chunk of its sound to Paul Simon’s seminal worldbeat record Graceland – though none of the tracks quite match the bombast and instant recognisability of a song like You Can Call Me Al, and neither do they appear to be trying to. What Heza has taken on are Graceland’s quietly fizzing basslines and understated but danceable disco-meets-tribal beats: forceful enough to carry the summery, exotic-tinged melodies that are laid over them, but subtle enough not to be overpowering – allowing Generationals to play around to their hearts’ content with different textures and layers of sound.
Happy-go-lucky lead single Put The Lights On shows the band at their experimental – but never inaccessible – best, its gentle verses of twinkling percussion and intertwining falsetto harmonies broken up by excitable hooks that sound like a samba band simultaneously dropping all of their instruments in a phone booth. Flourishes of synthesized slide guitar slither over the unwavering rhythms of closing track Durga II, dosing it up with unexpected country & western flavour before degenerating into jittery synth noise that contrasts beautifully with Generationals’ velvety, caught-in-the-throat vocals.
Album opener Spinoza and penultimate track I Used To Let You Get To Me are more conventional guitar-led numbers, all metallic-edged riffs that shine like a car windscreen in overhead midday sun, while I Never Know makes a somewhat unexpected musical foray in following the likes of the Black Keys into T-Rex-style ’70s glam-rock territory. But despite all this stylistic variation, the album never feels less than focused and pulled together.
Heza might not be the most original album you hear this year – Generationals are far from the only band making chirpy, world-influenced indie-pop at the moment – but it has so much genuine charm, so expertly executed, that it’s impossible not to fall for.