Dakota Theim takes you back. The Portland songwriter returns with the release of Tangled Heart, the follow up to his 2020 debut, Somewhere Under The Sun. Tangled Heart was born in the early days of the pandemic as a loose collection of tunes that the multi-instrumentalist Theim originally tracked by himself, before taking the demos to bandmates Ben Bilotti (guitar) and Alex Werner (bass), who helped to flesh the songs out into their current forms.
The album doesn’t particularly point to its contemporary origin, and in fact, Tangled Heart gestures back, evoking a kind of late-60’s classic pop, both in its progressions and soundscapes. It lists roughly the same instrumentation as Somewhere Under the Sun–guitar, keys, bass, drums–but everything seems to hum with a little more electricity, as though all the effects got a couple percent wetter as thing went along. Most notably changed from the first project are Theim’s vocals, which have a more ambitious range, and also feel slightly more processed in the mix, drawing auditory parallels to The Sgt. Peppers and White Album-era Beatles.
The songwriting on Tangled Heart also clearly draws from that era, and Theim shines in that space of cascading chords and infinitely hummable melodies, of which he has no shortage. If there’s criticism to be levied against the album, it’s also that it doesn’t do much to contemporize that sound, but it’s not trying to. Rather, it inhabits a kind of nostalgia, the same kind you feel listening to a song you grew up with, thinking about early loves and the way they made you feel. It’s a safe place, but one that’s tinged with melancholy, and perhaps there’s something illuminating in the way Theim wrote from that place amidst a time of such debilitating uncertainty.
Standouts include the closer, “Feel No Pain,” which builds slowly but deliberately into a triumphant sendoff, and “Never Give Up On Your Love,” which served as the first single, and features a video with Theim, Bilotti, and Werner playing together in an archetypal Portland yard, and singing softly from lawn chairs out of windows. Inherent to both tracks is the presence of a longing, but also a quiet resilience, and a true heart that beats loud, despite it all.