If you come to John Pena's project Heavenly Beat expecting a certain reverb-heavy sound thanks to his membership in Beach Fossils, you might be surprised that he owes more to the Pet Shop Boys than to the Velvet Underground. You might wonder if he moved to Sweden to spend time with the Embassy or Radio Dept. instead of hanging around a dingy Brooklyn practice space. His first album, Talent, has a lighter than air quality that’s pure dream pop with synths, the songs ringed with fluffy clouds of keyboards that cushion the melodic bass runs and the harmonious acoustic and electric guitar lines, and float over gently propulsive drum beats. Pena's voice is another soft addition to the mix; he never raises it above a whisper even when dishes out pure angst-y heartbreak. It's a reassuring sound, blending the organic with the machine generated topped off with some real, understated emotion. The album flows from start to finish in an almost unbroken mood of resigned melancholy, with the guitars sometimes taking the lead and sometimes the synths, but neither of them bury the ache in Pena's voice as he quietly grapples with issues of faith, love, and his place in the world. That may make it sound like the album is on the bleak side, but it falls firmly on the beautiful and wounded side. His melodic sense and gift for weaving the instruments together means the record can just wash over you in a pillowy wave. Listen a little closer, and a couple of the songs stand out ("Influence," with its gently rocking bossa nova beat and flamenco guitars, or the uptempo "Faithless," which has a touch of New Order in its DNA), but mostly, Talent works as an overall experience with loads of rich sonic atmosphere, hummable melodies, and artfully restrained emotion. Quite the impressive debut.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra