Five years ago, the German-American duo HAERTS released “Hemiplegia,” a slowly building onslaught of dance-pop that pulsates like blood through veins after an unexpected shock to the system. Such self-assured early work fueled HAERTS’s well-received debut album, as well as buzz-generating stops on the festival circuit. The ecstasy of early success, however, led to a painful comedown following a split with their label, Columbia. This professional heartbreak spurred a move from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley, plus a period of self-scrutiny and healing that cleared the way for new work. “We started writing in a time that felt very heavy to us,” Fabi says. The duo’s follow-up four years later, New Compassion, is a record of that disappointment and recovery.
Having demonstrated a mastery of synth-pop fundamentals—writing catchy hooks and washing the lead voice in rivulets of pretty noise—HAERTS now pushes organic sounds like rhythm guitar, tambourine and live drums to the front of the mix. As a result, one could picture New Compassion’s standout tracks playing both as club anthems and, stripped down, as campfire singalongs. The title track builds around jangly guitars, a shaker, and a tambourine. Channeling the upbeat classic rock of Tom Petty or George Harrison, the song becomes a rallying cry for personal resilience, repeating the mantra “new compassion” and the phrase “And I’ve been feeling the call so I walk the walk.” Like other songs “Fighter” and “Sign,” “New Compassion” documents an effort to balance ambition with self-care, particularly in a relationship whose power dynamic does not favor the speaker’s wellbeing. Whether the “you” here refers to an unkind lover or an unsupportive record label, the message works either way: you wronged me, I clung to you too long and I’m fighting to assert my own self-worth.
This evolution gives the album a narrative shape. Early tracks like “No Love for the Wild” and “The Way” bemoan the difficulty of taming one’s free spirit to fit into a stable partnership, while the final cut, “Healing,” foregrounds Fabi’s vocal and a single guitar to portray an emotional cleansing post-heartbreak. Opener “No Love for the Wild” exemplifies HAERTS’s long-established knack for melding synthesized and acoustic sounds: the track builds drama with film-score strings, surrounds the voice with a gentle swirl of reverbed chords, and adds a quickly strummed rhythm guitar in the chorus. The mix is thick with detail, every pause between lyrics filled with a sustained chord or a trail of echoing vocal. As Fabi sings “I tried to find a love for the truth / A love for the wild,” the instrumentation heightens that tension between punishing melodrama and hard-earned joy.
“Matter” and “The Way” tamp down the synth-pop in favor of vintage sounds influenced by, respectively, Stevie Nicks and Emmylou Harris. Fabi shares with Nicks a slightly brassy timbre and the ability to hold notes long and steady; her vocal style works as an anchor for her partner Benny Gebert’s instrumental experiments. “Matter” takes ‘70s Fleetwood Mac as a touchstone, though the tempo slows and the song smolders more patiently than, say, HAIM’s dancefloor-filling takes on that same sound. “The Way” finds Fabi reaching for bigger notes, opening up her range like Harris. Behind Fabi’s vocal, “The Way” incorporates syncopated organ chords and soaring harmonies, though the duo’s trademark synths continue to shimmer at the edges. This coheres into what sounds like a vintage country song brushed with stardust.
Despite these high points, the album drags in places and sometimes relies on lyrics that favor cliché over precision, such as the chorus of “In This Time”: “Baby nothing lasts forever even if you want it in this time.” But by now, HAERTS has become such a reliable purveyor of catchy yet thoughtful material that it’s easy to enjoy the album by skipping those tracks and circling back to the masterpieces. The breezy, bass-driven cut “Your Love” is a perfect artifact of synthy pop, resonating with early standouts like “Hemiplegia” that produce a dopamine rush undergirded by a heavy, beating heart. The band’s professional hardships have opened up new emotional territory, and their creative spirit has produced a sound varied enough to capture its expanse.
Watch HAERTS perform in the Paste studio below: