Somewhere between the Northwestern churn of the ‘90s grunge movement and the arousing depths of the Delta blues is the evolving rock stylings of Heartless Bastards. Keeping the heart and soul of the band in check, guitarist/vocalist Erika Wennerstrom has written 11 new songs that ring of originality and added orchestration not previously touched by the band.
The Mountain is the third album by the Bastards, and the first to incorporate the use of pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, and strings. While the core of the band is a stripped down power trio, the vocals sprawl across a landscape of power chords and restrained interplay between musicians. However, this is not to be confused with a subdued performance. “Be So Happy” is a slowed down acoustic number that incorporates an overlapping feedback to Wennerstrom’s vocals before the heated pounding of “Early in the Morning” unfolds on the next track. Not too many vocalists deliver the “uh ohs ohs” quite as perfectly.
Perhaps the best example of the power trio format structure is on “Out at Sea.” A lone guitar riff announces the track before finding the additional musicians in a state of rock. This format doesn’t rest as the album progresses. The angular changes of “Wide Awake” are shaped through Erika’s manipulative vocal range, which guides the song along its course. She uses her vocals as a musical accompaniment to the string arrangement, the way the pairing should be.
Heartless Bastards’ previous releases have been unique and can definitely stand upon their own merit. But, given the chances that the band took in the studio while crafting The Mountain, the lyrics and direction have not changed; they’ve just reached a new level.
The Mountain is out now on Fat Possum Records.