The Ohio-reared Heartless Bastards recorded ‘Restless Ones’ at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas. Their fifth album runs wild with mid-western imagery out of bluesy chords and an acoustic hard-rock sound. Singer Erika Wennerstrom’s vocals swell and howl, the lyrics climbing over each other in a wonderful drifting tone.
Their sound is like The Who, Alabama Shakes and Aimee Mann combined into one (not to mention The Black Keys, to whom they owe their break). They have an aura of anarchy about them, drawing on their garage rock sound from earlier albums. Their debut album ‘Stairs and Elevators’ has crashing cymbals and feedback-heavy guitar while Wennerstrom’s voice stretches to cover the noise. Fast-forward to this new release, and her voice has the authority it deserves, commanding the slicker, finer-edged tracks.
‘Wind Up Bird’ and ‘Gates of Dawn’ and are the album’s grungier offerings, but there is vulnerability in the form of ‘Hi-Line’ and ‘The Fool’, the latter being an album highlight. Both give us a taste of heartbreaking truths about love, loneliness and nostalgia, all of which settle into the album’s theme of displacement. The soft-rock/country twang of ‘Journey’ is a little too generic and frustratingly safe, yet does not remove you from the overall likeability of the album. The songs are big but not boisterous, preserving their intimacy.
The final track ‘Tristessa’ is the comedown; the final haunting ode to an older America. The track is named after Jack Kerouac’s novel, which deals with the idea of trying to find peace and acceptance in an alien environment. Wennerstrom samples from the novel itself (“The beauty of things must be that they end”) to reiterate a theme already explored: the yearning for a simpler time; a past life that she sees through “rosy-golden” eyes. The album is majority up-tempo – percussive and polished – until you come to this deep-toned disorder of warped guitars.
Heartless Bastards have attempted to find a more accomplished sound, and it has paid off in an album that is glossier than its predecessors. It should cater to new listeners, but without losing the band’s signature quality that existing fans know: they are organic, spiritual, and despite their name, full of heart.
‘Restless Ones’ is out now on Partisan Records
You can see ‘Heartless Bastards’ live at one of the following venues…
1st September 2015 – London, Borderline
2nd September 2015 – Bristol, The Lantern
6th September 2015 – Manchester, Ritz
The full track-listing for ‘Restless Ones’ is as follows…