Hearing Aide: Theo Katzman ‘Heartbreak Hits’

Funk mastermind Theo Katzman of Vulfpeck has released his second LP today titled Heartbreak Hits, following the 2011 release of Romance without Finance. This latest work oozes heartache, with Katzman‘s youthful vocals lamenting the loss of a lover. The songs evoke the agony of painful breakups, and might even open old wounds for some listeners, but they’re delivered with such gripping soul, that most won’t even think to press pause.

The album kicks off in rock ballad fashion, akin to the likes of 70’s icons The Eagles. Katzman confirmed on his crowdfunding album campaign that the band did in fact lend inspiration. Wailing guitar on album opener “Hard Work” shocks the eardrums to life before Katzman’s breathy pop vocals attempt to make sense of a failed relationship. People will go the extra mile for someone they love, and with pragmatically comical lines like “I held your hair back when you had too much to drink/ I used my bare hands to unclog that bathroom sink” and “When you got depressed and your mind was on the brink/ I peeled you off the floor and drove you to a shrink” it’s easy to see how a guy thinks he’s earned his keep.

“Breakup Together” is sweet on the ears, but the melodic sing-songy quality carries Katzman’s tenderly brooding words as he laments “We used to make love together, now we break up together.” Trilling backup vocals follow this somber sentiment. The silver-tongued harmonies call to mind that flock of helpful songbirds chirping away in Snow White, but instead of helping the fair maiden do laundry, they perch on Katzman’s shoulders and chime in as he mopes (understandably) in a corner.

“Crappy Love Song” supplies some of the most gut-tickling harmonies on the album before “My Heart is Dead” goes nineties angst as Katzman pouts, “My heart is dead girl/ It doesn’t beat no more.” “Good to be Alone” presents a sobering, understated country folk charm replete with slide guitar. A more earnest tone on this number replaces Katzman’s raspy pop attitude found throughout much of the album. Lyrics seeking the silver lining of reclaimed independence in the wake of a breakup, he attempts to convince himself, “No one to scratch you down your back/ No one to cut you any slack/ You got to scratch it on your own/ It’s good to be alone.”

“Lost and Found” staccato style drums, guitar and vocals add a bouncy feel, revisiting the lively pop realm before “My 1-Bedroom” finds Katzman dreamily fantasizing about the prospect of sharing his small dwelling with a significant other, nearly whispering the lyrics with stripped down instrumental accompaniment. Already the album has led the listener on a roller coaster ride, each song undulating along the spectrum of sadness and resentment, lyrics spiced with cynicism. “As the Romans Do” injects some steam into the track list with powerhouse pop vocals and pounding drums. This song in particular demonstrates the skillful subtleties in Katzman’s singing ability, especially through the lines “I bid a fond farewell to my bestest friends/ I packed my possessions in a Uhaul then/ I sailed like a sailor to the promised land.”

“Love is a Beautiful Thing” mellows the track list again with soft jazz guitar, muted drums and light piano laced with Katzman’s delicate falsetto. The words convey a familiar scenario in breakups: the pain of seeing an ex-lover involved with someone else when you’re still hurting. He sings, “Love is a beautiful thing/ Hugging, kissing, laughing, holding hands/ Love is a beautiful thing/ Unless it’s you loving another man.” After this song the listener almost surely feels as if Katzman has beaten them over the head with such relentless harping on the same themes of loss, yet by sticking so loyally to this theme, he has created a very real portrayal of the cyclical thought patterns many experience in a breakup. “Plain Jane Heroin” rounds out the ten-track album on a somber note, ending the album on a bit of a cliche, comparing the allure of a woman to the addictive nature of heroin.

Katzman has crafted a string of songs that thoroughly display the breadth of his vocal ability. The rawness of the lyrics suggest Katzman might have actually had his heart recently ripped from his chest by whichever woman called it splitsville. While profit from fresh heartbreak is a form of sweet songwriting revenge, it doesn’t appear that a recent tragic breakup is the essence of inspiration. Katzman stated in his album campaign, “I started writing songs, and found myself exploring different angles of letdown/loss of expectation/heartbreak: My own personal experiences, as well as the extrapolation of those experiences into my imagination.” Nevertheless, nearly anyone can empathize with Heartbreak Hits’ sentiments, and dance, rage or cry to the album at their discretion.

The album was recorded by Tyler Duncan at The Barber House, mixed by Duncan and mastered by Devin Kerr. Cover photo by Claire Marie Vogel and album artwork by Robert Lester. Musicians contributing to the album include: Joe Dart (Fender bass), Woody Goss (piano, Wurlitzer electric piano on “Break Up Together”), Laura Mace and Mike G: (omni backing vocals), Lee Pardini: (Wurlitzer electric piano), Drew Howard: (pedal steel guitar) and Brett Farkas: (additional electric guitar on “As the Romans Do”).

Currently Katzman has one scheduled performance on January 26 at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles, California. The album is available for purchase here.

Key Tracks: Hard Work, Breakup Together, As the Romans Do