Divided Heaven - A Rival City (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Divided Heaven

A Rival City (2011)

Paper + Plastick

While he's done time in punk bands like the Boils and Protagonist, singer/songwriter Jeff Berman's latest project, Divided Heaven, is something altogether different. His new record, A Rival City, transforms pop-punk hooks into acoustic ditties. While the "punks with acoustic guitars" shtick has been done plenty over the last decade, Berman succeeds based on a few simple songwriting tenets. He writes clean, catchy tunes without trying to awkwardly co-opt other genres.

Berman has certain pop instincts that he can't deny, so while Divided Heaven is a stripped down endeavor, A Rival City is still very cleanly produced and actually quite beautifully arranged, considering it's just one guy with a guitar. Berman sounds a lot like Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong (r.e. nasally). A Rival City, then, consists of 10 attempts to write something on par with "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." He nearly succeeds. Opener "Five and Dime to Hollywood" is a tuneful, rollicking number in the vein of early Even in Blackouts. "Born-Again Non-Believer" has a huge chorus. "East/West" solemnly closes out the record with some gentle balladeering and a promise to stay alive and never settle.

A Rival City does suffer from repetition, however. Berman supplements his vox ‘n' acoustic guitar setup with all sorts of flourishes from piano and a choir, but the songs all generally have the same format. While the whole record clocks in at just under 30 minutes in length, the running order is easy to confuse. Still, though, the record shows a lot of promise in its back-to-basics approach.

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