Heartless Bastards first came together as a three-piece outfit in Cincinnati, Ohio, including singer Erika Wennerstrom and her then-boyfriend Mike Lamping. After a couple releases (Stairs and Elevators, All This Time) the duo parted ways, so Wennerstrom headed to Austin, Texas. What came of the breakup and move was The Mountain, which turned out to be quite a success for the band.
Heartless Bastards is now back with Restless Ones. This new album is classic Heartless Bastards—blues, rock, country, whatever sound comes out of guitarist Mark Nathan’s magical stringed instrument.
If trademarking a signature sound were a thing, Heartless Bastards would be first in line to protect its valuable property. Restless Ones is all the best things about Heartless Bastards, like Wennerstrom’s honest and heartfelt lyrics, and a distinct, full musical arrangement.
There’s no way to mistake Heartless Bastards for another band.
Restless Ones begins with the fantastic “Wind Up Bird,” in which Wennerstrom discusses ingenuity and how deception and fabrication eventually wears thin. The opening guitar riff could give an easily spooked person a heart attack. If that sound were physical, it would rip through speakers and everything else it came into contact with. The guitars sound no less than wonderful in “Wind Up Bird.”
The album’s first single, “Gates of Dawn,” is a perfect pop song that’ll probably be played on repeat on every alternative station in the country. It’s quick and the lyrics are sparse, but Wennerstrom still manages to be concise with her train of thought as she sings, “I have awoken/The spell it has been broken/Went through the cold, cold wind of the eastern snow.” Drummer Dave Colvin is absolutely tireless in his efforts on “Gates of Dawn.” The drumming is precise and extremely meticulous; he plays every part with purpose.
In “Into the Light,” the entire band plays excellently, including plucky, cheery piano, which is somewhat unusual for a Heartless Bastards song. The track touches on the mental and emotional ailment of over-thinking everything. Wennerstrom sings, “Oh, I’ve been so in my head/I need a vacation from myself,” and nails this feeling of personal exhaustion. The phrase “into the light” suggests that Wennerstrom sees the bright side of her philosophy and that things will get better eventually.
What separates Heartless Bastards from most current rock bands is its authenticity.
Every member of Heartless Bastards is an outstanding player, and the band doesn’t rely on Protools and extreme overproduction to make its music sound good. Restless Ones sees Heartless Bastards playing its heart out, not caring about what its peers are releasing. The album is for people who are sick of a questionable music scene with bands that care more about clothing than instrument tone. Heartless Bastards undoubtably put every ounce of energy it had into these ten songs.
“Tristessa” is an ambient and almost primal departure from Heartless Bastards’ comfort zone of wailing guitars and furious drumming. Wennerstrom sing-chants throughout the hypnotic track, and it’s completely mesmerizing. “Tristessa” is Restless Ones’ zen moment, inciting a fleeting and breathtaking sweep through one’s ears. It’s calming, bringing the listener down from an album full of high-energy.
Restless Ones is not doing the same tireless and overdone blues-rock thing that is popular on the radio today. Yes, Heartless Bastards is influenced by the blues, but what the band plays is fresh. Heartless Bastards continues to grow, and Restless Ones proves the band’s success with going with gut instinct.
Heartless Bastards – Restless Ones tracklist:
- “Wind Up Bird”
- “Gates of Dawn”
- “Black Cloud”
- “Pocket Full of Thirst”
- “Into the Light”
- “The Fool”
- “Eastern Wind”