The melancholy, muddied psych rock of Heliotropes’ debut A Constant Sea was an unconventional fusion of husky grunge riffs, layered female harmonies, and droning shoegaze intervals—a bog of musical relics dating back to the doo-wop era. Rather than dig around the muck for new sounds to exhibit on follow-up Over There That Way, however, frontwoman Jessica Numsuwankijkul has broken off from her former bandmates, hired a crew of sonic landscapers (shifting from an all-female to a majority-male group in the process), and converted the auditory morass into a mildly overgrown meadow. The album rests on newly created pop territory that’s established, comfortable, and tediously shallow.
Changes are afoot right off the bat: The abruptly concise “Normandy” is all breathy flutters and quietly rapid percussion, having as much impact as two colliding clouds. Next is “Wherever You Live,” which rolls along a standard oldies slow-dance progression and throws in a sock-hop saxophone solo for effect. Two songs later, the record hits its laid-back stride with “Easy,” a relaxed cut (intended as a tribute to former Canadian rock outfit April Wine) that trades in smeary guitar melodies and atmospheric vocals.
Yes, there are some flashes of the band’s prior turbulence-generating configuration: “War Isn’t Over,” for example, is a dash of fuzzy alt-punk (though the simplistic breakdowns come off as half-assed). But the moments of true excitement are few and far between; the ennui that saturates the album is reflective, pondering, even whimsical—a far cry from the rebellious and grim weariness of A Constant Sea. Sure, Over There That Way’s pandering play for indie-pop acceptance makes it a more leisurely listen. But, with no need to periodically clean a little heavy-metal grit out of the ears, the album just doesn’t demand much attention.