Heartless Bastards | All This Time (Fat Possum)

This three-piece has one too many members to be a gimmick, too few eccentricities to attract attention, but enough straightforward talent for crafted dynamics to ensure their own devotion.

 


With Stairs and Elevators, Heartless Bastards' first full-length, the band made a small but significant ripple for those who follow the bluesy stomp of Fat Possum Records. Like-minded artists such as labelmates the Black Keys and the White Stripes had hammered out a fanbase in the post-garage rock revival of the early '00s. Whereas the former uses its minimalist set-up and caterwauling guitar and the latter Jack White's enigmatic genius status to keep the cameras on them, Heartless Bastards are simply not the kind of band to catalyze a movement. This three-piece has one too many members to be a gimmick, too few eccentricities to attract attention, but enough straightforward talent for crafted dynamics to ensure their own devotion.

The band has clearly taken two steps forward with All This Time. Erika Wennerstrom sings with the confidence of a star on the rise; perhaps it is a newfound awareness of potential. The songs are staggered and arranged with the care of a band who knows people are listening with interest. The casual piano swing of "Into the Open" builds into a wall of noise nowhere to be found on the debut. This majestic tension returns on the title track, whose chorus shows the band at their most bombastic, bursting at their seams.

It is the inventive drumming of Kevin Vaughn that propels the set ahead most effectively. Vaughn discovers rhythms within 4/4 rarely accomplished in indie clubs and combines it with sensibilities never heard in the blues dives from which he draws inspiration.

If anything, the band is most hampered by the limited guitar work of Wennerstrom. It is competent, but does not keep up with the rest of the band, often falling into a static strum pattern. Her already great voice has matured, taking on an acrobatic quality within its raw power. The melodies are more diverse; you can hear her stretching what she perhaps believed herself capable of. Wennerstrom is able to convincingly vacillate between Robert Plant, Cat Power, and Karen O within a three-minute song.

The results are a uniform improvement over Stairs and Elevators, itself one of the most overlooked releases of last year. So where does that place this album? It probably won't rocket them into the mainstream, nor will they languish in the underground. My guess? The following will come to them. As some lesser band's opening act, they will tear an audience from the bar, sounding good enough to cause them momentarily to forget they can no longer smoke in their sanctuary. Initially enamored with Wennerstrom's cascading vocals, then Vaughn's hydra-arms, they will leave singing "Came a Long Way." Whenever the band returns, Wennerstrom will probably by then own the microphone, the spotlight, and your heartless, helpless self.

RIYL: The Black Keys, Led Zeppelin, Black Mountain

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