Review: The Van Allen Belt – Heaven On A Branch

If anyone should ask you “I’m looking for a band that don’t sound like anyone else”, then Pittsburgh’s The Van Allen Belt must surely qualify. If you can imagine an alien Karen Carpenter singing on The Avalanches’ first album, you’ll get a taste of what they’re about. This is only half the story, though, as we once more enter the curious, exotic world of The Van Allen Belt.

The Van Allen Belt Album Cover

Never ones for subtlety, the record kicks off with the ultra-bouncy ‘Rain’ and the ever distinctive, classically-trained voice of Tamar Kamin: part 60’s girl pop siren, part hectoring spokeswoman. The song is underscored by Scott Taylor’s highly imaginative turntable and percussion skills and it’s Benjamin Ferris who we have to thank for the subversive songwriting and production, as well as a selection of choices of samples and mad keyboards. Time has done little to diminish the fine balance of invention and craziness since 2010’s ‘Superpowerfragilis’, so when Kamin urges “Don’t you worry your head’ on ‘Words’ at the centre of the album, the warning might come a little too late for the uninitiated.

That said, ‘Clouds’ boasts another reliably creative production but the relatively mainstream melody provides a welcome comfort and contrast to the often unhinged nature of some of the songs. Humour is at the core of much of the The Van Allen Belt’s lyrics, not least on ‘Afternoon Walk Of Shame’ (where “Everybody Knows My Name”). Versatility is undoubtedly a strength here. Some tight percussion and Tom Altes’ bass add a slinky edge to the streamlined ‘Slopes’ whilst ‘Bandi Shaum’ seems to borrow inspiration from The Chordettes’ ‘Mr. Sandman’. Then demonstrating their cinematic potential, ‘This Is The Best Shower I Have Ever Taken’ is part dream pop, part lost Hollywood film score and ‘Different Storm’ captures the melodrama of a Bond theme.

‘Heaven On A Branch’ isn’t the most coherent album you’ll ever hear. It’s all over the shop stylistically and thematically but their songs are always touched by warped genius and this record is no exception. Long may their peculiar journey continue.

Web Sites:
The Van Allen Belt Official Site
The Van Allen Belt Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Avalanches, The Carpenters, RedTails

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