Desert Hearts - Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki

Francis Jones rates the second LP from the Belfast indie-rock duo

It has taken four years for Desert Hearts to provide the follow-up to their 2002 debut Let's Get Worse. Much has been made of the time elapsed, comment and speculation focusing on the band's relationship with record label Rough Trade, and internecine conflicts.

Given the exacting nature of the band's core duo, such considerations seem inconsequential. There is a line in opening gambit 'D Moon Pilot' which succinctly captures the unfettered ambition of Desert Hearts. 'How do you make something they would die for?' Their combination of gritty gutter-rock and heaven-questing aspiration makes for an asphyxiating brew.

Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki is an album that seethes with passion, music possessed of a peerless intensity, lyrics that are emotionally fluent, the cadences care-worn and heartfelt.

Regret mingles with defiance on 'Sea Punk' and there is love, in all its complicated glory. This is no picture-postcard fare. Love has the capacity to damage, to be infinitely more traumatising than hate. Desert Hearts understand this.

The sentiments are brave and unflinching, 'worthy, but not worth it, I'll see you around,' and carried on wildly escalating guitar lines, fevered bass and pounding drums that sound like the latest lift-off from Cape Canaveral.

Listening to Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki, we are made to feel like an eavesdropper at a confessional, stealing away sanctity and secrets. 'Gravitas' carries the admission 'Cowardly things I have done, things that mattered, difference between right and wrong.'

Charlie Mooney is reaching into the darkest recesses of heart and mind, trawling for those feelings and thoughts that many of us refuse to acknowledge. 'Would it alarm you if I said I couldn't last, would you shake your bones, would you melt your head, if I told you that by thirty, I'd be dead?'

Desert Hearts wade through the shallows, swimming in deeper truths, struggling against life's currents. These then are the oldest stories, perhaps the only ones that really matter, life, love and death. Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki is undoubtedly sombre in tone and timbre, Desert Hearts exiling themselves from sun to bask in darkness.

Disillusionment and abandonment are encountered here, but it is the unbreakable human spirit that shines through. 'Goodbye To Everything' is no nihilist mantra. There is defiance beyond the despair. The plaintive 'Urchin' is an act of faith, espousing the redemptive power of love. When Mooney sings 'we've come a long way my girl', you can hear every misstep, every pained mile on the perilous trek of the relationship.

In sound, Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki more than measures up to the grand gestures of the lyrics. The trio have broadened their palette, adding strings and horns. It gives the music a regal, weighty feel. There is authority in every nick and slice of guitar, every burbling bassline or uncompromising drumbeat.

The slower tunes, such as 'Apple' or the title track, recall troubled tunesmiths Elliott Smith or Will Oldham, red-eyed and wistful. When Desert Hearts are heavy, they're very heavy, ratcheting it up and assuming a stance of guitar-based belligerence that would fit snugly around My Morning Jacket or Lift To Experience.

However, such comparisons are merely pointers, for Desert Hearts don't emulate, they plough their own inimitable furrow. Four years to deliver such a beautiful, incandescent and timeless record is a wait worth every second.

Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki (No Dancing/Gargleblast) is out now.