Hereticks – “Promised Land”

Hereticks - Promised Land
by Don Jolly

I met her at Bowery Electric, while the Hereticks were playing. Young, blonde, good looking — whatever that means to you. She was bobbing at the other end of the crowd, dancing near Wes Maffley-Kipp, who was dividing his attention between her and the bass. Hers was a look of gravity. After the second encore, it pulled me in.

I forget what I said first. There was a burst blood vessel in her eye — a flood of red made brilliant violet by the aquarium neon of the bar. Her name was Vanessa. She was unimpressed with me.

The rest of the night shook out pretty well, all things considered. She wanted coke. I had some. We repaired to the toilet and alternated bumps, doing a line off a copy of This Engine, the Hereticks’ first album, released February 2013. It’s a good record, but neither of us were thinking about that. I had her phone number in my pocket when I left town the next day.

After that — who can say? We met up, went out a few times, developed some comfortable and unexciting routines. Her taste in records was an issue — she hated punk, indulged in the occasional top 40 station, made fun of me for listening the The Selecter as if there was no difference between the second and third waves of ska… Sex has never been my strong suit but we got by. Her parents liked me, after a while.

Then things went bad — they had to, right? No thrown dishes or anything — no fights, really. Just coldness. Little jokes, reliable compliments — they all started ending up dead. Somehow, without either of us knowing the mechanism at work, the little procedural kindnesses upon which any relationship is based went cold, stopped carrying charge. She still calls, sometimes. We catch up in a perfunctory way. Still — it was a worthwhile thing, like all deep scars.

Meet the Hereticks. They’re from Austin and they put out an album last spring, an EP just now. Check out “Promised Land,” which creeps up on a Morse code strand before exploding into a kind of sardonic  desolation powered by Wes Maffley-Kipp’s bass and ethereal keyboard hits from Waldo Wittenmyer. It’s a melancholy song, with a touch of self reproach. See also “I Only Pretend,” parts one and two, which strikes at similar territory in a more bouncy, pop-folk kind of way.

This is a weird band. Live, that night I saw them at the Bowery, they came on like a stick of reverse dynamite, blasting people into the bar instead of out of it. These guys ooze charisma; it’s a bodily secretion for them, draining out of the cuffs of their shirts and the pipes of their jeans, pooling bright purple on the stage. And it’s easy, faced with that kind of showmanship, to get distracted. Putting on their EP, as I did the week after the show, was a little bit of a shock. This is a band with a serious drive and an intellect fully equipped with eyes, hair and teeth. “Promised Land” hits a spot of weird, spectral guilt: it’s a song about the realizing you’re not the kind of person anyone would write a song about. “I Only Pretend” is a little balder in this declaration, but slightly less interesting musically (with the exception of a few whip-crack guitar hits right before the final line). Their full-length, This Engine, is rougher but treads similarly complex emotional waters. Tracks to consider: “Dancing in the Snow” and “Once Upon the End.”

This is an act I’m still digesting in a lot of ways. They seem to exist in a muddled, limited space between pop music as popular poetry and pop music as adolescent celebration. They have it in them, I’m sure, to put out much, much less cerebral stuff. Maybe they will in the future — but for now, I’m glad they haven’t. This is what you should put on if you have some things to figure out, some failures whose genealogy seems inexplicable. This music for life’s blind spot.

Hereticks at Bowery Electric was one of the best shows I have ever seen. Full crowd, private booth, gallons of gin — the out-of-body experience of a real cocaine tear, driving all our souls until they plonked against the low, black roof of the bar… Everyone was into it, I thought: moving together, operating as cells of some vast entity, all difference collapsed. I was at my best, that night, I thought. Listening to the EP, later, I realized that — if true — my assessment was depressing. Maybe the best we have is just the hubris of looking someone the eyes and believing, really believing, that the brain behind is open and capable of love. “It’s been over since we left the trees,” sing the Hereticks, at the close of “I Only Pretend.”

For them, maybe. It ended for me when the last encore finished at Electric. I’d been watching her across the crowd the whole time, feeling strange, compelled, intoxicated. All it would take, I thought, was a few moments of total presence. 

I was doing key bumps in the men’s room when she slipped away.


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