Album Review: The Nova Heat, by The Nova Heat

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novaheatIt took three years and who-knows-how-many band lineups to complete, but The Nova Heat doesn’t sound like an album one could rush to make, anyway. Really, it’s not one you can even rush through listening to. The sublime joy is in sitting down with nothing else around you but headphones on your head and trying to catch the little details. They’re everywhere.

Two influences immediately surface upon listening: Radiohead and popular rock ‘n’ roll of the late ’60s. The former turns up more in song structure and tempo changes, the latter more in the sounds of the instruments, particularly guitar and use of harmony. The cumulative effect is dreamlike at times, but without ever lulling the listener into a trance. The “dream,” if you will, is the brainchild of Nova Heat singer and songwriter Jason Loftin, and in spite of its leaning toward complexity the songs are all rooted in impressive, evocative tunefulness. Give a listen to the acoustic version of “Stone” that serves as the album’s hidden track and you’ll see the melodic indie track that was the album cut began as a heartbreaker of a country tune. Loftin may not be a country singer–he’s too articulate and enunciates too well for Nashville–but he can write a song that grabs you regardless. Of course, lest you think he’s descending into formula, Loftin counters with the perpetually agitated “Nuclear Whipping Boy” to keep you on your toes, something this album does well.

It keeps Loftin’s backing musicians on their toes, too, but they respond ably throughout. It’s no coincidence that several Nova Heat alumni went on to form other very gifted groups such as The North Decade and Holstein; Loftin drafted a talented collection of collaborators during the three years it took to finish the album. With the other parts in flux, however, it becomes the constants that stand out: Loftin, who displays a charming accessibility in his vocals; and the rich musical flourishes contained within the songs, which bear more fruit with repeated listening. The Nova Heat plays like an ensemble piece, and in many ways it is one. All the pieces come together to form Loftin’s vision of what an indie-rock band would have sounded like had such a thing existed 40 years ago. It’s a gratifying bit of imagination.

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