Written by Tim Jones
Funeral Homes began as an authentic bedroom recording project of Sofia Poppert in 2017. The earliest recordings can be found on her SoundCloud and show the modest beginnings of Poppert on acoustic guitar with unaffected vocals, though with a strong penchant for soothing melodies and emotional vocal delivery. In just a few short years, however, with the release of April Showers Bring May Flowers, the arrangements expanded to a lusher dream-pop sound that gave glimpses of Poppert’s ability to build rich sonic textures. That evolution continues on her latest effort, Blue Heaven, which finds the fuzz pedal and whammy bar and establishes a cohesive sonic identity.
In an interview, Poppert noted one of the most immediately apparent influences on the album when discussing the inspiration for her full-fledged foray into shoegaze: “Honestly, getting into My Bloody Valentine. I know that sounds like sooo typical shoegaze, but it’s true.” On the opener, “There You’ll Be Found,” she very clearly aims for that particular target through stacked, highly distorted, bending guitars, and the result is a fuller, more immersive sound than she’s ever achieved. In addition to upping the ante on instrumentation, Poppert’s voice relies less upon auto-tune, which has been present in some of her previous releases for increased reverb, which results in her voice blending into the mix as sort of an additional instrument in the songs. The sentimentality remains. Thematically, the album focuses on Poppert’s relationships and her understanding of her identity since coming out as trans in 2019.
In the first three songs, Poppert shows the range of her writing, which has benefited from the use of a studio recording space—a first for the project—and the propulsive drumming of Jake Rodriguez. “Before You Leave” is a slower-tempo track previously released as part of the Lonely Ghost Halloween Splits series. Comparing the Blue Heaven version to its first iteration, the guitars are now weightier, the drums are punchier, and the vocals are much more relaxed and at home in the mix. What follows is the lead single, “Double Vision,” which calls to mind more of The Smashing Pumpkins or Silversun Pickups than MBV. It’s a veritable radio-ready rock song and perhaps the best example of what fans will share to turn people on to this iteration of Funeral Homes.
Whereas previous Funeral Homes releases often flirted with several genres, Blue Heaven largely sticks to the modes set in these first three tracks: mid-tempo shoegaze, emo-infused slow-burners, and driving, hookier indie rock. “Starlit” returns to the opening wall-of-sound swell of “There You’ll Be Found,” using minimal percussion and letting the guitars carry it. “Seraphim Sight,” meanwhile, is another massive anthemic alt-rock jam. The sequencing highlights the variety in the songwriting without the need to shift outside of the shoegaze genre.
Blue Heaven’s midpoint features the interlude “Close Encounter,” an instrumental under a recording of a woman recounting a visit from extraterrestrials. It’s a bold move, but it shows just how versatile Poppert’s compositions can be in their ability to soundtrack a moment. The following song, the straight-forward alt-rock ballad “777,” features the hookiest guitar line and most sing-along chorus on the record. It—along with nearly half the album—seems destined to land on an array of shoegaze, dream pop, and otherwise vibey indie rock playlists.
The final three tracks are by far the most experimental. “Fairy Ring,” which Poppert once considered as the single for the album, begins as an uptempo, dancey song with intricate vocal harmonies on the chorus, but its coda is all twinkling delayed guitars and atmosphere. The title track starts with a drum machine and a dance club energy that persists over its six-minute-plus runtime, while the album’s closer—the beautiful “Capricorne Skies”—begins with Poppert and acoustic guitars, a call back to those early demos. But here, they’re as sonorous as the fuzzy shoegaze throughout the record. The song eventually builds to the dense levels of the rest of Blue Heaven, reinforcing the idea that Funeral Homes is most comfortable with itself when the guitars are their loudest.
Score: 8 Pollenate Me!
Tim Jones is a musician, writer, and teacher. @_madebed on Twitter.