Album Review : Heathers – Kingdom (Aunthill Records; 2012)

By Christopher Parkhill

If you haven’t heard of Dublin duo Heathers yet, don’t expect that to last much longer. Sisters Ellie and Louise Macnamara benefited from widespread attention following the inclusion of their hit “Remember When” in a recent Discover Ireland campaign. Much has changed in the four years since their first record, with the twosome now performing with a full band – a departure from the folky, lone acoustic guitar sound carved out on 2008 debut album Here, Not There. The transition, however, feels right.

Their evolution sees the shedding of the raw, rustic sound of their previous output – a brave deviation from the tone that oversaw their early acclaim. The shift to emphasis on elaborate production threatened to steal attention from the sheer quality of song writing, but instrumental diversity, rhythmic change-ups and dancing vocal melodies ensure this comes across as no ordinary pop record. The key strengths of their music – playful, interlocking vocals, swooping harmonies and punchy acoustic guitar – remain central throughout Kingdom.

Opening track “Circular Road” bursts into life, acoustic guitar underscored by synth bass, the layered sound a perfect platform for the pairs’ soaring vocals. “Lions Tigers Bears” embraces their new-found electronic side (further bared in “Waiter” and “Gather Up”) and develops into an intense, crashing anthem of hope. The songs bloom and recede, they conjure a recurrent feeling of reassuring optimism.

A sense of momentum is a hallmark of Heathers’ music, with Kingdom inheriting the progressive, pacey strumming established on the first record. This is captured in forthcoming single “Forget Me Knots”, which gently gathers speed, piano, guitars and vocals overlapping steadily, as the pair confides: “It’s alright not to feel okay”, and it is an inspiring pop anthem.

The overall result is a majestic, instantly enjoyable album with a distinctively personal feel, which delightfully complements the polished, expansive sound they’ve grown into. David Guetta has reportedly approached the pair with a view to collaborating on his next project, so before they’re whisked away to another world entirely, you should know that Heathers are performing in McHughs Bar, Belfast on September 28th as part of their Irish tour.

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