To call New Orleans pop duo Generationals’ third album Heza “cryptic” would be an understatement. What is a “Heza?” The Internet doesn’t know. The opening track “Spinoza” refers to a Dutch philosopher, the closing track “Durga II” refers to a Hindu goddess and “Kemal”? Wel l… it’s Turkish? But it’s not just the titles that are cryptic — Heza is a distinct departure from the duo’s bright, catchy albums Con Law (2009) and Actor-Caster (2011) that turns joy to melancholia, articulation to muddiness and specificity and purpose to vaguity.
Fans who were drawn in by ’60s doo-wop/California dreamin’/British invasion first single “When They Fight, They Fight,” or the clap-filled “Ten-Twenty-Ten” opener of Actor-Caster will be completely confused by this latest LP. The Generationals’ sophomore album wasn’t perfect — some lyrics like “we can’t stand each other but we can’t be apart” read a little too T-Swifty for comfort — but tracks like “You Say it Too” and “I Promise” reveal an encyclopedic range of musical references, and the collaging is pointed and selective — not overarching mimicry. “Yours Forever” was featured in the season one finale of HBO’s Girls as the perfect opener to an impromptu hipster wedding — an aura of spontaneity and fun that pervaded both the band’s debut and sophomore albums.
Heza tries to take these same influences — the light-hearted guitar sound of the ’60s, the addictive rock choruses of the ’70s and the stripped-down quality now trending in response to over-digitization — and make them heavy. The result verges on depressing in a lot of places, particularly in middle-of-the-album tracks like “I Never Know” and “Awake.” The opening track “Spinoza,” while not accessible, is at least perky, and “Put a Light On,” is perhaps closest to what fans would expect — bouncy verses and juxtaposing plucky bass with xylophone. Regardless, most of the album blurs together and, listening to it, I can’t shake the feeling that I should be sifting through the jeans rack at Forever 21.
“You Got Me” and “Extra Free Year” are the weightiest of the album’s tracks, pushing the electronic in a way that breeds nostalgia for the 2009 “Bobby Beale” — however much of an overly-ironic jab at manic-pixie-dream-girl rom-coms, at least it sounded like a human voice. Perhaps the band was striving to reimagine its sound in the vein of many indie artists who sense repetition and boredom coming along once they pass album two. Heartthrob, Tegan & Sara’s latest, is an ’80’s-roller-skating-rink-soundtrack meant to avoid the situation in which head-scratching fans hear a song and say, “Is this from The Con? Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is from The Con.” But reviews were mixed on that effort, as well as that of our fave Brit Kate Nash’s, to depart from the somber-whimsy of her sometimes Carrollesque/sometimes Motowny sophomore album My Best Friend is You with an altogether screechy and scary third album, Girl Talk.
Indie rock is notorious for being “one note”— that’s why it scores your jean-shopping — but these two dudes had seemed to be claiming responsibility for making it hooky and appealing. Evolution is desirable, but not at the expense of what made the band interesting in the first place. What had seemed like a competent nod to sunshine pop and the good bits of a whole bunch of bygone musical eras now seems like a confused mess. I liked the horns and the occasional girl-group reference. I thought lyrics like “I been watchin’ the birds as they go, I been keepin’ my bank account low,” were fun times, almost akin to those “before my daddy took my T-bird away.” The band took its name from the 2008 Presidential campaign, in which every issue was described as being a “generational issue.” If the Generationals tried to be tongue-in-cheek, they’ve lost that footing. This transition from stellar sophomore album to third album flop seems characteristically Millennial generation.
We were talking about an age of New Sincerity, or weren’t you listening? It’s why the Girls dialogue smacks of Salinger and we’ve finally started trash-talking Taylor Swift. It’s why Noah and the Whale are tearing it up with their way-more-fun-than-Petty Americana storylines and the Lumineers are running away with their bare-bones Dylan poetry. The twenty-somethings go nutso for throwbacks and moody Millenials may weep for Cat Power, but they secretly crave all the spunk and heart that Generationals willfully provided this time two years ago. Sad day for hipster sad-people — Heza is a slice of the same old misery.
With a new album from Vampire Weekend and (GASP!) Andy McMahon’s first EP since Jack’s Mannequin on the way, I’m writing off Generationals as a contender to satisfy my Beach Boys soft-spot/sweet tooth for now.
“You can always come home,” though friend-o’s. “I promise.”