Come for the harmony; stay for the melancholy.
The soul-stirring Ames/Des Moines pop unit Jordan Mayland & the Thermal Detonators delivers a tantalizingly dark treat with its generous new record This Mess, their first LP from the hand-made Nova Labs label.
Mayland is a veteran of some of Iowa’s best bands of the past two decades, starting with the beloved early 2000s (local) hitmakers Keepers of the Carpet and continuing through today with acts like Volcano Boys and TIRES. The Thermal Detonators are Dave Atchison, Paul Hertz, Sean Huston, Claire Kruesel and Frank McBroom — a seasoned outfit that blends voices and diverse instrumentation into a rich sound that feels gracious, even compassionate. You can hear the band listening.
The record opens with the lovely instrumental “Your Pretty Intro,” which situates us in the Detonators’ world of haunted beauty. The melodic themes of the opener are cleverly elaborated and transformed in a series of interludes — “This Mess” and “The Sun” — that punctuate the track-list like a story-within-a-story through the album, gripping us with a cinematic sense of blue, delicious pain.
“It Don’t Make Any Sense” complicates an upbeat tune with subtly chaotic keyboard polyphony below the perfectly sensical melody, reinforcing the lyrical theme of watching a familiar world falling apart. “Heart Beats” follows suit with an emotional range that transforms from sunny to moody and back again with total ease and control.
“Heart Beats” is also one of the songs that shows off Mayland’s ability to swing easily into and out of the falsetto range. He is complemented throughout by his bandmates who contribute gorgeous — and brilliantly unpredictable — harmonies throughout the record.
The vocal magic approaches the sublime on the almost-unbearable “Closer to Your Heart” and on the Queen-inflected piano gothic of “A Dark Gift.” The Thermal Detonators push way, way into hurts-so-good territory here, capturing a deep pop sensation that will resonate with the Kinks in your heart.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 219.