Review : Heartless Bastards - Arrow
PitchforkThe Heartless Bastards never got tagged as the next saviors of rock'n'roll, although they certainly possess all the relevant traits: a strong grounding not in blues but in blues rock, a conservative aesthetic that nods to rock history but is never beholden to any one particular artist or scene, and most importantly a frontwoman with a commanding voice. Perhaps their name was too misleading or their lineup too precarious, but the Bastards escaped the mantle that's been assigned to everyone from the Strokes to the Black Keys and most recently to the Alabama Shakes. If that has left them out of enviable company, at least they've managed to attract a loyal audience and even star in a crucial "Friday Night Lights".
Their first for Partisan Records, Arrow is their crunchiest album since Erika Wennerstrom gutted the original trio in 2008 and rebuilt the Bastards as a quartet. Largely discarding the fiddle, pedal steel, and banjo that fleshed out 2009's The Mountain, the band and producer Jim Eno of Spoon strip things down to emphasize guitars and the rhythm section as much as vocals. They open these songs up, both enabling a heavier sound and making room for some weighty jamming. The result is less fussy than The Mountain, with room enough for some Skynyrd Southern rock on "Late in the Night" and Santana percussion on "Skin and Bone". They've developed a larger musical vocabulary, but the results can be cumbersome: With timpani and crackling guitar right out of a Morricone soundtrack, the nearly seven-minute centerpiece "The Arrow Killed the Beast" is more melodramatic than dramatic, weighted down by import and exaggerated ambience.
Perhaps the Bastards have begun courting the rock-revivalist constituency on Arrow. "Whenever you need a pick-me-up, you gotta have gotta have rock'n'roll," Wennerstrom sings on "Got to Have Rock and Roll". Despite the dry classic-rock riff and chugging momentum, the song makes for a tepid endorsement. "Skin and Bone" is much less corny, as Wennerstrom sings, "Oh, I want it to be like when I was young." She may not be speaking specifically about rock'n'roll, but that line succinctly sums up listeners' evolving relationship with music and a desperate desire to connect as strongly as we did in our youth. Most of the Bastards songs address travel rather than age, which is how most touring bands interpret the write-what-you-know adage. "Staring out at the city skyline, a marathon is going down the street," Wennerstrom sings on opener "Marathon". The song is about how life is a "long race home," and dangling participle aside, it's an immensely awkward image to open the album....full text
AvclubTopping The Mountain wasn’t going to be easy for Erika Wennerstrom. The third album by her band Heartless Bastards both expanded the scope of her classic-rock fixation and cut to the quick of her gutsy, roughhewn Americana. Heartless Bastards’ fourth full-length, Arrow, doesn’t shake up that formula one bit. Instead, Wennerstrom has stripped away much of the swampy reverb that admittedly helped make The Mountain so massive—and she’s replaced it with sharper, warmer, more intimate tones that feel as immediate as they do timeless.
None of that would matter, of course, if the songs weren’t there—and in that regard, Arrow is the Bastards’ best album to date. The classic-rock nods are still omnipresent: “Parted Ways” swigs and swaggers like Exile On Main St.-era Stones, with Wennerstrom bittersweetly wailing, “I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time / To ease my troubled mind.” “Got To Have Rock And Roll” stomps with all the glammy, anthemic oomph of T. Rex. “Simple Feeling” hooks and hammers like The Who. And “Late In The Night,” from its title on down to its majestic blues licks and monstrous drumming, is a knock-down, drag-out love letter to Led Zeppelin....full text
PastemagazineOn their fourth album, the Ohio minimalist rockers haven’t made any drastic changes to their aesthetic or approach to songwriting, but there is a discernable increase in the quality and strength of the tunes that makes it the band’s best record so far.
The Bastards have always been a vehicle to showcase Erika Wennerstrom’s wonderfully androgynous and powerful voice that sounds like it would be just as at home belting tunes about black magic and dark spirits as it is personal tales of love, loss and general weariness, the latter which she tends to opt for.
On “Marathon,” the six-minute opener to Arrow, Wennerstrom uses the race as a metaphor for being on the road, being alone and trying to find her way back home. As the song ascends from a quiet and simple chord progression to chaotic dynamics with Wennerstrom declaring that “I’m on my way home,” it represents the band at their best—honest, emotionally charged and easy to connect with. On the record’s first single “Parted Ways,” she continues with the same theme. Mourning a lost love, she sings about the hum of the wheels and being a long way from home, but this time over a bouncy progression with a proper guitar solo. When she sings “I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time, to ease my troubled mind,” she pretty much sums up what its like to listen to a Heartless Bastards record, particularly this one. Put it on, pour yourself a drink, and things will probably start to make a little more sense.
Wennerstrom takes a break from the introspective road tales and professes the healing power of rock ‘n’ roll on the banger “Got To Have Rock and Roll,” and the balls-to-wall “Simple Feeling” is the band’s biggest sonic departure from their standard blues-rock fare....full text
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