The Heavy | The House That Dirt Built (Counter)

cd_the-heavy.jpgThe Heavy’s second album presents an updated version of the funk and blues that imprints like Motown and Stax pumped out throughout the ’60s and ’70s, only with bigger amps.

My father always tells me that they don’t write songs like they used to. This might be true to an extent, but there are still plenty of bands that use genres and styles past to novel effect. The Heavy is one such band.

Much like its first, The Heavy’s second album The House That Dirt Built, presents an updated version of the funk and blues that imprints like Motown and Stax pumped out throughout the ’60s and ’70s, only with bigger amps. Backed by a crack band of horns, the vocals tend to swing between James Brown percussive and Curtis Mayfield smooth. The guitars, though, have driving, gritty tones that can recall contemporaneous guitar gods like Page or Hendrix. Producer Jim Abiss (mostly noteworthy for his production of Brit rock bands like the Arctic Monkeys, the Editors, and Kasabian) leaves dirt and fuzz all over most of the tracks, further cementing the time capsule aesthetic.

The Heavy is at its best when pushing its (ahem) heavier, more rock ‘n’ roll aspects, which ground the songs. After a sample from a vintage horror movie trailer ("If you value your sanity, don’t go in the house!"), exclamatory opener "Oh No! Not You Again!" burns down the barn with chugging, overdriven saxophone and backup vocals from the Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa until crashing to a halt two minutes later. Slow and intense Led Zeppelin guitar fuzz on "What You Want Me to Do?" gives the track a noisy weight, while percussive singing over a vamped Southern-fried riff on "No Time" dares listeners not to headbang along.

The band keeps the record varied without compromising its aesthetic. "Sixteen" sounds like Ray Charles exploring the metaphor of an out-of-control teenager as Devil-possessed, accompanied by oompah bass, horns and a counterpoint piano in a loping waltz-time that underlines the menace of its lyrics. "Short Change Hero" starts off as a dusty Morricone western soundtrack, complete with tympani and ominous choir, but soon shifts into a picked guitar-groove loop that wouldn’t be out of place on a Wu-Tang album. The lead singer falsettos on top, emphasizing the trope of the compromised hero so often portrayed in westerns.

Not all of the left turns the band takes are winners, however. The reggae beat and put-on Jamaican accent of "Cause for Alarm"—with the requisite calls for freedom and religious triumph—as well as the ’60s AM radio sound of "Love Like That," can smack of genre dilettantism, but they do keep the songs and instrumentation from getting stale.

These songs are the exception rather than the rule, however. Despite the few missteps, the majority of the Heavy’s sophomore effort is, like its first, a forceful and sexy evocation of the funk and blues tradition, just packed with heavier guitars and more adrenaline. A | Kurt Klopmeier

RIYL: Motown or Stax Records mixed with a little Jimi Hendrix




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