How do you get to Heaven from Jacksonville, Florida? Beats the hell out of us, but Owen Holmes, aka Gospel Music, has an idea. The indie-pop songwriter’s debut LP takes its title — and its cover art — from a turn-or-burn evangelical tract he used to hand out as a Southern Baptist teenager. While his fundamentalist worldview started showing cracks around the time he found out there are 400,000 species of beetles, his Bible Belt upbringing made an indelible impression, even if the gospel he’s now spreading is one of the dive bar, the faltering romance, the boiled peanut.
The last time we heard from Gospel Music — on 2010’s duettes EP — Holmes was collaborating with members of The Magnetic Fields, Camera Obscura and other like-minded artists, creating a sound critics compared to Jonathan Richman, Silver Jews and The Vaselines. On How To Get To Heaven From Jacksonville, FL, he further develops his homespun lo-fi, layering toy piano, organ and banjo over jangly guitars, bouncy basslines and minimalist drums. His playful, conversational baritone sits squarely between that of David Berman and Lou Reed, while lots of syrupy female vocals, this time from his Jacksonville friend Madeline Long, provide the perfect foil.
At the center of it all are Holmes’s pithy lyrics. Lead single “This Town Doesn’t Have Enough Bars For Both Of Us” finds him trying to avoid an obstreperous ex during a night out (“I’m not drinking anymore / but I’m not drinking any less”). In “Bedroom Farce,” he and Long play lovers smitten with, respectively, a special-education teacher and a Proust enthusiast who are themselves lovers — “guess we’re stuck with each other,” he and Long conclude. “Let’s Run” is a Velvet-Underground-informed ode to long-distance running, with a promise to his partner of “a beer for each mile when we’re done.” (Holmes is a Boston-Marathon-qualifying runner.) “Apartment” features Long in a twee-pop gem that would be at home on an old Sarah Records comp, while Holmes wears his Magnetic Fields influence on his sleeve in album closer “You Don’t Have To Be Alone (But You Can’t Be With Me).”
Holmes made the record at home in Jacksonville and recruited Charles Newman (Stephin Merritt’s engineer) for mixing. God bless Gospel Music.