Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Heartless Bastards - Arrow

A Best of 2012 Selection
This One You Need to Own

"The Best New Album I've Heard in Six Months."

There is something fundamentally right with singer Erika Wennestrom's delivery. Sometimes the words bounce from her mouth playfully, but make no mistake - this is no pop band. "Fiery" is just as apt descriptive for her delivery and songwriting. Much of what we hear on the new one "Arrow" is a band's evolution into a state of excellence. Heartless Bastards have certainly released the best record of their lives to date, (Partisan Records, in stores now).

Long time fans will recall previous efforts were trumpeted for offering up hooky efforts mixed with bluesy-rock numbers. After about two dozen listens to this record, yes - this is my favorite record to have emerged in the last six months, those hooks and roots sounds are all one and the same. From start to finish this is a winning effort. A series of songs, better than those that preceded it - all meant to be played before live audiences.

Thoughts on a Few of these Remarkable Songs...

Parted Ways is the lead single and an instant classic. The band stirred up noise for "Arrow" by pre-releasing the track a few weeks back. It's classic HBs - emotional but restrained, ascending, visceral and sensitive. Like most Heartless Bastards songs, even the most wild frenetic ones, there's a restrained gentile quality. Think of it as southern hospitality, if you will, which keeps the thing in check. Not quite sure how to best qualify this character of their songs, but it's there.

One of my favorite tracks on "Arrow" is the fast-burner, Simple Feeling, a song that really lets Wennerstrom exercise her distinctive voice like an instrument on stage. It's not a complicated or involved track but perfect for driving in the car. (I know this, trust me.)

The album opener, Marathon, is a slow, staid celebration of the road that got the Bastards to where they find themselves with "Arrow." The song is so insightful and appropriate, I have to wonder if it was recorded near the end of the process and elected to the open the record for this reason.

The Americana fan in me has grown the last three years to the point where my passion for roots music allows us to champion all kinds of unexpected new acts. This is old hat, of course, to Heartless Bastards. On Low Low Low, Erika and the band return for a run at a low twangy original which is recorded so precisely (it's an amazing recording with exceptional production values) that I looked around to find the band the first few times this one played. You have to go back and look at Delta Spirit's "Ode to Sunshine" (2007, re-released in 2008) to find something quite as magical.

Probably the most unexpected songs for me (and pleasantly so) on "Arrow" was the Seventies Pop Soul sound I heard from the band on Only For You. This understated slice of sunshine is pure gold. Favorable comparisons to AM & Shawn Lee's "Celestial Electric" (2011) and AM's solo predecessor, "Future Sons & Daughters" (2009).

Down in the Canyon, is the record's champion to the dark and ethereal world of guitar. Ranging and emotive, Wennerstrom's howl matches the wail of the guitars. The ghosts of Sabbath and Zeppelin swirl in the skies above like smoke above a fire. This is rock bliss!

It's possible that after years of touring and preparing for this moment in time together, Heartless Bastards could be the best rock band in America today. You'll not hear an argument from me.

Heartless Bastards
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Await Rescue said...

I have to thank you for exposing me to a lot of very cool new bands, and having done so, you have turned me into an avid reader!

That being said though, I don't understand all the rage currently surrounding Heartless Bastards. I have listened through "Arrow" 4 or 5 times now and nothing has grabbed me yet... maybe I am missing something though because I know everyone loves these guys and that Rolling Stone also raved about the album.

I'll give it a few more listens, but since we are talking about great albums in the rock vein from the past six months, what about "Attack on Memory" by Cloud Nothings or the new Noel Gallagher album? I think both of those records are far superior than "Arrow," but that is just my humble opinion of course.

If we were to talk about the best Rock albums in the past year though, what would your pick be or would you still stick with Arrow? I am constantly searching for great new Rock acts and would love to hear any suggestions!

Ryan Spaulding said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan Spaulding said...


First off - let me tell you how great it is for me to hear you have been engaged by the website. It takes so much time and effort but it's so worth it to share and to connect with new people. It's just great to hear that all our new visits aren't by one-and-dones.

As for your thoughts regarding Arrow the new album from Heartless Bastards... I wouldn't expect everyone to feel as I do. Our website is devoted to sharing the things we love - the things we find along the way. But there is no single answer to what's good. (Run like hell from any music website or music blog that pretends to have all the answers!) The best compliment someone can make when they visit our page is that they know they can return each time and read about something new and exciting. It may not always speak to them, but it makes them think and it entertains.

That being said, the Heartless Bastards show in Boston I saw last week is the best thing I've seen live in a good while. Maybe since last fall's CMJ shows. (Photos coming!)

If you want to check out everything else we thought was cool this last year, reader our Annual Best of List A tip of the hat to my personal 2011 Album of the Year, Rise Ye Sunken Ships from We Are Augustines (Just played Letterman on Friday) and are now on tour in Europe. Then there's Chicago's Filligar, who are right now putting on the best live shows in America! They were just invited to play The Outlaw Roadshow in Austin this March.

Await Rescue said...

Ryan, I definitely recognize all the work you put into the content on the site, and I have to thank you for that! People immediately take notice of the depth of the content as soon as they visit the site and have to appreciate it. Keep up the great work.

I will have to look up some Youtube clips of Heartless Bastards playing live to see what they are all about. I can very easily picture them putting on a phenomenal live show, and I feel seeing a band live is where you truly see how great a band is.

Finally, Rise Ye Sunken Ships is incredible! I have listened through twice now and I am hooked. I love the inherent tension that they create with drums that feel like they are constantly building throughout every song and the angst-filled vocal performances over simple, yet catchy chord progressions. Very cool.

Great suggestion, and I will definitely check out the rest of the list!

Thank you for your response, and good luck with the Outlaw Roadshow and future posts!