It has been more than a decade since the demise of Illinois’ favorite emo-infused indie pioneers caP’n Jazz. After they disbanded in 1995, a number of bands erupted on the scene, including Joan of Arc, American Football, Owls, and the Promise Ring. Often being referred to as “Kinsella bands” for their feature of one of the two Kinsella brothers, Mike or Tim, the label stuck to any band associated with the mother band, caP’n Jazz. One such band that received this label, though featuring no Kinsella brother, was Jade Tree act the Promise Ring.
Their connection? Davey von Bohlen. After an eight-year tenure, they disbanded in 2002. One year later, von Bohlen formed his current group, Maritime. Picking up where the Promise Ring left off, Maritime released its first record, an acoustic-splattered indie pop record entitled Glass Floor. It was met with very little success, often being knocked for its inability to stand par against attempts made by the bandmate’s former groups. Maritime came back two years later to release the critically acclaimed We, The Vehicles, which featured the band refining their indie pop sound, adding electronic elements, including more dancey drum beats, and popping guitar leads. Riding the wave of success Vehicles brought them, Maritime quickly returned to release its third, and latest record, Heresy and the Hotel Choir.
Maybe there was more expectation surrounding this record. Maybe von Bohlen ran out of new ideas, so he stuck with the same formula as Vehicles. Whatever the reasoning, Heresy does not deliver, at least not in the same way Vehicles did. Where Vehicles defined Maritime, presenting a band that had found its niche, Heresy is just another pop record. On Vehicles, von Bohlen learned many things, including: how to sing, how to manipulate rhythm guitar and how to create infectious melodies that were neither grossly annoying nor clichéd. But Heresy, on the other hand, seems to just take the knowledge learned from Vehicles and extend that for 12 more songs.
There are the catchy, dancey numbers (“Guns of Navarone,” “For Science Fiction”), the love songs (“Love Has Given Up”), the lo-fi tributes (“With Holes for Thumb Sized Birds,” “Peril”), and the ominous third-person classics (“Aren’t We All Found Out,” “Are We Renegade”) that has made Maritime what they are today. That isn’t to say, however, that von Bohlen didn’t try anything new on this record. He decorates some of his pop styling with a tint of intense immediacy not experienced on Vehicles, as seen in “Hours That You Keep.” He also experiments with different effects on his guitar leads, making them more poignant and absorbent (“Pearl”).
It isn’t that Heresy is a bad record, it is just experiencing the same reception many records of its kind have received in the past. Just like Broken Social Scene’s self-titled followup to You Forget It in People, or This Sinking Ship, the followup to Smoke or Fire’s Above the City, which earned the band an instant fanbase outside of its Boston home, good, inventive records are hard to follow up.
The main element hurting Heresy and the Hotel Choir is what helped make We, The Vehicles so successful. Where there was next to no expectation for Maritime prior to Vehicles release, every critic was expecting them to top their last record. Heresy and the Hotel Choir is what it is: a simple, easy indie pop record. And while a solid effort, I’ll be keeping We, The Vehicles in my record player just a bit longer.