Before releasing its second album, We, the Vehicles, Milwaukee's Maritime lost its original third wheel, former Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson. Justin Klug stepped in to fill the role, but another big personnel change came before the next release, this year's Heresy and the Hotel Choir: Guitarist and keyboardist Dan Hinz was added.
The new formula seems to be working. While Heresy isn't dramatically different from the last album, it does reflect an often fuller, heftier sound. In the past, Davey von Bohlen's plaintive, willowy tenor was accompanied by gauzy, dulcet melodies, showcasing his vocals behind colored glass. The more vibrant sound carries the former Promise Ring singer above it, rather than following his lead. For the better, those vocals backed by that bounce make for a jauntier record, recalling the power-pop bounce of von Bohlen's old outfit on tracks like album opener, "Guns of Navarone."
Not only is the quartet coalescing here, but it's also mining better material and mastering the sequence: Heresy fits together, flows nicely, top to bottom. The wistful themes of hope and salvation ("First Night on Earth," "For Science Fiction") aren't quiet Dostoyevsky, but they blend well with the bittersweet sonics. It suggests the first Jets to Brazil album, wedding woozy, slightly cold textures with chiming, sometimes jagged guitars.
But it's "Be Unhappy" that's the album highlight. It comes on like a shimmying cabaret number surfing a jagged slice of dub-like guitar reverb and blooms into a lavish, ringing chorus. It's there that von Bohlen sings, "Everytime I get on an airplane I feel my life could change/ and sometimes I think it does." Let's hope that the next time he gets into a studio to make an album, his band doesn't change.
Maritime plays with the One A.M. Radio at Local 506 Friday, Nov. 23. Tickets are $8 for a 9:30 p.m. start.