Nick Thorburn and Ryan Kattner’s work has always existed in a realm that feels out of step with the current times. When their first collaborative LP as Mister Heavenly, Out of Love, came out in 2011, indie rock’s moment in the sun was arguably on the wane, and that album’s very particular 50s doo-wop inspired aesthetic made it feel like even more of a throwback.

However, the album’s charm was undeniable. The tag team dynamic, which Thorburn and Kattner mastered on the record’s best cuts was the hook that made the whole project so entertaining. The contrast between Thorburn’s doe-eyed and boyish (yet undeniably sinister) vocal delivery and the rough-shod depth of Kattner’s bullish rasp created an unlikely synergy that played to the idiosyncratic strengths of both vocalists. The re-appropriation of the genre conventions of doo-wop (such as the handclaps, pounded piano lines, jaunty rhythms, and cheery backing vocals) proved to be the perfect, incongruous backdrop for some delightfully twisted songs, filled with violence, heartbreak, obsession, self-harm, casual vampirism, and diddy eyes (whatever they are).

And now, Mister Heavenly are back with Boxing the Moonlight, an album that sounds like it could have been released at any time this millennium, mainly because it draws on all sorts of sounds and styles from the history of 20th century pop and rock music. The stylistic palette has been broadened to include 60s garage rock, 70s kraut-rock, 80s stadium rock and new wave, and early 90s hip hop. It makes for a veritable smorgasbord of genre pastiche wherein there is plenty of fun to be had in simply trying to pinpoint the artist or even specific song that is being aped. On the other hand, it also makes for a bit of a hit and miss affair.

‘Beat Down’ is a strong start, opening with this classic set of Thorburn couplets:

“I want a beat down,
Just for the education.
I want a three way,
Just for the conversation.”

The song swiftly erupts into a rollicking chorus that feels like a fight breaking out in a busy bar. Thorburn and Kattner pass the mic back and forth and keep the momentum high until a hilarious Beach Boys-esque barbershop breakdown provides an opportunity to catch your breath. It’s a perfectly constructed song that by no means reinvents the wheel, but is well worth your time. One thing that comes across is the increase in muscularity in the rhythm section. The production hits hard here, and on tracks like ‘Hammer Drop’, where that golden era of hip hop influence is felt in the thumping drum sound.

‘Blue Lines’ bounces along on a honky tonk piano line, before taking a left turn into 80s sitcom theme tune territory, whilst ‘Makin Excuses’ channels The Cure’s ‘Close to Me’ over a super cheesy calypso drum machine loop. Regardless of their genre digressions, both songs are masterclasses in melodic, infectiously catchy pop. The latter also sees Thorburn and Kattner getting meta about their songwriting approach on Boxing the Moonlight: “Throw on that old song/ Unchanged melody can calm you just like me/ Throw in some dancing/ The familiar rhythm clears up that schism.” Over and over again, guitar licks, drum patterns, and particular vocal phrasings create a sense of déjà vu (or should that be “déjà écouté”?), wherein you’re reminded of acts and styles of bygone eras.

On album centrepiece, ‘George’s Garden’, bubbling synths and a steady pulse evoke Kraftwerk and metronomic 70s Krautrock, before the song seamlessly evolves into a stadium-sized anthem worthy of The Boss himself. It’s a moment of sheer fist-pumping brilliance when the music swells and Thorburn allows his voice to stretch beyond its capabilities. If there’s one complaint about the track, it’s that it seems to patiently build towards the promise of a crescendo of Arcade Fire-level euphoric triumph, before ending abruptly. “Oh, ok...” it says in my listening notes.

One thing you have to credit Mister Heavenly with though is concision; their songs don’t tend to outstay their welcome. You won’t find an equivalent of ‘Reggae Pie’ (a song off Out of Love, which even had a fake-out ending on its way to a five-and-a-half minute slog of a runtime). The closest we get is ‘Crazy Love, Vol. III’, which coincidentally also lopes along to a reggae-inspired beat. It’s a charming song, ornately orchestrated, which showcases Kattner’s voice at its most affecting and hopelessly romantic. He has expressed his hope that it one day be used as a wedding song, albeit one where the bride is hiding a shiv in her dress. Sounds about right.

Brief, harder rocking numbers like the Trompe Le Monde-era Pixies pastiche, ‘No Floor’, and the Monks-esque psych-tinged garage rocker, ‘Dead Duck’, are fairly throwaway, but whilst the former is an energetic rush of fun, the latter is almost obnoxiously terrible, with its chaotically buzzing guitars, and levels-pushing vocal delivery from Thorburn. ‘Magic is Gone’ and ‘Pink Cloud Compression’ again showcase Thorburn, Kattner and Plummer’s knack for crafting very deliberate, controlled and immensely catchy pop-rock songs. While it may not strike you on first listen, there is a lot of fun to be had throughout Boxing the Moonlight. It’s arguably more consistent, if less unique and endearing, than Out of Love.

On the album’s closing track, Thorburn repeatedly intones that “you’re out of time.” It’s a moody number that evokes the spectre of mortality, with Thorburn getting increasingly desperate-sounding as the song approaches its end. While the somber tone of the song is somewhat inconsistent with the album that has preceded it, it’s a fitting final message from a band who are very much unbeholden to contemporary trends, and have found themselves, operating comfortably, out of step with the times.