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Album Review: Adam Lempel and the Heartbeats

October 11, 2013
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a0483514267_2Nostalgia seems to be everywhere these days. Roomrunner and Dungeonesse evoke the early ’90s with their respective grunge and dance-pop stylings, Pearl Jam are due to play 1st Mariner Arena later this month, and the Grand Prix brought the nearly forgotten alt-rockers Live to Baltimore. Continuing the trend, Adam Lempel and the Heartbeats’ self-titled album oozes nostalgia for the teenage years.

However, Lempel doesn’t reference the ’80s or ’90s for some barely remembered, hazy nostalgia that was in vogue a couple years back with the synthy sounds of chillwave. No, Lempel takes it back to the early ’60s with clean guitars, a hint of organ, and slightly swung percussion that references an era of surf rock and Beatlemania.

The lyrics fit the mold, too. “Why do you stay so far away from me / when you belong in my arms,” Lempel pleads on the sunny opener, “You Belong With Me” (listen below). And on the highlight “Me and You” Lempel sings, “Me and you, we come together to form a perfect soul / me and you, we come together in a perfect world” over one of the album’s rare fuzz guitar riffs. Lempel’s voice stretches a bit at times, but in an endearing way that complements the earnest lyrics (it’s also nice to hear his voice without layers of echo and reverb that are laid on thick in Lempel’s better known band, Weekends).

Like the clean guitars, the arrangements are pleasantly restrained and the songwriting is top notch. While stylistically the album feels indebted to the past, only on “B-Train” does the material feel cliche with its call and response vocals and synthetic handclaps. The track is almost redeemed by some quality guitar writing, but the song loses all its steam, stretched out to a completely unnecessary five and a half minutes.

The real problem with the album, however, is the poor sequencing. “Echo” is a great song featuring Amanda Glasser’s lovely vocals, but the song’s slow start and chill mood kills too much momentum sitting at track number three. Throughout the album upbeat numbers are isolated in between softer more ballad like material, some of which is quite good, however I could do without “The World is My Mama With Open Arms” which is heavy on the melodrama on an album that is, for the most part, a breezy pleasure.

There’s a really good album in here, you just have to do a little leg work to find it.