Jealous Creatures, Little Heaven Big Sky
Once upon a time, I tried to write a screenplay for a road movie. It pretty much sucked, frankly, but the part of the process I found myself enjoying the most, weirdly, wasn’t the actual writing of the story but coming up with the imaginary soundtrack for my hypothetical movie. I had a ball trying to scrape together — in the pre-MP3, pre-Internet age, mind you — a cassette tape of songs that sounded to me like windswept, desolate, desert highways at night. None of it was country, per se, but a lot of it ended up sounding “Western,” at least to a point, and it was all great, great stuff.
Listening to Jealous Creatures’ debut full-length, Little Heaven Big Sky, I find myself right back there at my boombox, listening to tunes by Sand Rubies and Cowboy Junkies and excitedly dubbing them onto a tape right where they sounded best in the all-in-my-head story. On the band’s previous EP, there was a hint of Western-sounding loneliness, but here the Creatures have grabbed onto that with both hands and held it tight. The drifting, far-off guitars and Hirsch’s melancholy, sometimes bitter, Margo Timmins-like vocals make for excellent road music, just like that long-trashed tape of mine; the sound of the distant highway to Somewhere Else.
And like that tape, the music here isn’t “country,” at least not by any traditional definition — it veers far too off into rock territory, for one thing, like on opener “Resonate,” which makes me think of Elastica or the wholly-underrated mid-’90s band Magnapop. The guitars roar along with just the right amount of distortion; not enough to be over-the-top metal, but still enough bite to make it grab hold. Singer/guitarist Sarah Hirsch spits level verses full of bitter recrimination and dismissal over the top, coming off like a rootsier, rawer Aimee Mann.
From there the music rolls on like a diesel-fueled engine through the night, driving through the more cowpunk-sounding “Nothing To See Here” and the indie-rock roar of “Play Along” before taking a bombastic, peyote-vision detour into psychedelia with “Sunless Realm.” “Anywhere With You” is drifting and watery-sounding, showcasing a more vulnerable side to the band, while “If You Want To” is bouncy, swaying pop with a back-and-forth guitar line and underwater reggae-ish keys (courtesy of ex-Japanic keyboardist Rob Smith, who I’m glad to see back in a band again).
“Disappear For Me” is rambling and melancholy, more overtly country than anything to that point — it’s electrified but down-to-earth, like Sand Rubies’ “Interstate.” Then the band hits album highlight “Just A Memory,” which is similarly countrified but more fiery, with an almost Buxton-like melding of alt-country and straight-up indie-rock. The blazing guitars and Hirsch’s sweet-yet-sharp-edged vocals elevate the track into the realm of Songs to Put on Infinite Repeat, especially near the end, when the song somehow morphs into a Jesus & Mary Chain track.
Shifting again, “Baby For You” is more sultry and murky, alluring and threatening at the same time, and then the band revs up again for rocker “Such A Tease”; I freaking love the bassy weight of the guitars here and the way they snarl and snap on followup track “Open Your Eyes.”
While the Creatures are all damned talented people, it’s Hirsch’s voice I find myself focusing on the most. It gets more intriguing with each listen, combining an Aimee Mann-esque delivery (especially on the title track, which practically could be an Aimee Mann song) with the somber huskiness of Margo Timmins or maybe Alison Moyet. She never screams or really even raises her voice, preferring instead to croon sweetly or lay you out with a flatly delivered, half-spoken line, and hell, it works.
By the time the elegaic “Little Heaven Big Sky” comes sweeping in, with its slow-stepping, delicate drums and Mojave 3-like feel, it’s like I’m out there on that darkened highway, speeding through the black with the windows down, just me and all those regrets. And I don’t ever want to reach my destination, wherever the hell that might be.