Heresy And The Hotel Choir, Wisconsin-based indie rock supergroup Maritime's third album (and second for Flameshovel Records) is the follow-up to last year's much heralded We, The Vehicles album. Since then, the line up has shifted a bit. Bassist Justin Klug (ex-Decibully) has taken the place of Eric Axelson (ex-Dismemberment Plan member who left to pursue teaching) and joins singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier, both formerly of The Promise Ring, and "Chicken Dan" Hinz on second guitar for the current incarnation of the band.
Despite the line up changes, lightly textured and distorted straight-ahead guitar pop with some keys mixed in is the formula for much of this record (just like the last one). "Love Has Given Up" drives this point home, with its mix of clean and distorted post-punk guitars. It's like what Matt Pond PA's most upbeat tracks might sound like without violins and cellos.
First track "Guns of Navarone" is easily the most infectious foot tapper on the record, and the lyrics to this country-tinged jangle pop masterpiece were written during rush hour traffic on the way to the studio, according to the band. Rapid post-punk guitars on the epic rocker "Pearl" highlight the middle of the record, and the aforementioned "Love Has Given Up" brings back the ringing melodies one more time for a pleasant ending to the record.
There are a few unmemorable, bland songs on here, but "For Science Fiction" and its dirty, distorted bass lines is another contender for best song on the album. Its rockin' rhythm section, soft but noticeable quirky synths and sarcastically religious lyrics in the choruses give it an edge over other tunes. Speaking of lyrics, von Bohlen's vocals, though assertive have a shyness about them and come off sounding like a softer Mark Lanegan.
Overall, Heresy And The Hotel Choir is an almost-great record – better than their first (Glass Floor) (2004) but not "pitch-perfect" like the Pitchfork-praised sophomore effort We, The Vehicles (2006). Still, if you like Maritime at all you won't regret purchasing this CD. It's far better than the sea of mediocrity that's out there, in or below the mainstream rock world.