Mark Charles Heidinger’s doing well for himself on the local music scene without a solo project. Playing in These United States and the Apparitions, he’s helping create some of the city’s best folk pop and power pop, respectively. But “Divide & Conquer,” his second LP as Vandaveer proves again that D.C. is lucky to have him putting so much time and soul into a solo outlet. It’s his best expression.
Dylan comparisons abound, but other than his evocative poetry and occasional Dylanesque inflection, Vandaveer’s always owed a debt to the entire ‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene -- and Nick Drake’s depressiveness -- and his smoky-yet-syrupy vocals tend to drift closer to M. Ward minus the deep rumble. “Divide & Conquer” brings him closer to the present. Thematically, he continues to contrast good and evil, love and hate, romance and the gutter as he did on his debut, “Grace & Speed,” with lyrics that are at once humorous and poignant, thoughtful and humble. But he abandons that album’s sparse intimacy for subtly more lush arrangements, courtesy of better production, to bring him closer to the modern underground. It’s a sad but beautiful ambience -- a haunting Americana and often depressed sound with hope at its heels.
With hard-to-find dexterity, Vandaveer switches from the heartfelt love plea of the opening title track to a dark and haunting assault on love denied in “Fistful of Swoon” to a more open and uplifting confession of love on “Resurrection of Mary.” Such relationship stories dominate the album, though they aren’t all his. Not necessarily. “Before the Great War” is full of reminiscence and wistful joy, casting Heidinger’s heroine a father-neglected but loving, solid woman of the roaring ‘20s and holding the catchiest chorus on the record: “You were going to be somebody, be somebody, be somebody new.”
Not shying from his sleeve-worn influences, nor his literate wit, Heidinger titles the last of this set after a Dylan song, calling it “Beverly Cleary’s 115th Dream” instead and reaching out in support and empathy to the children’s author’s most famous heroine, Ramona.
Heidinger plays a host of instruments on this record -- a kitchen-sinker as has been the fashion of the past few years -- with some necessary help from Robby Cosenza on percussion and harmonies from Rose Guerin that lift the songs up a level.
"Divide & Conquer" comes out Tuesday, but Vandaveer's kicking things off a little early with a record release party at Black Cat's Backstage Thursday night. With Roofwalkers and John Bustine.
Check out the video for “Fistful of Swoon“ if you need more convincing: