Along with the chocolate and flowers, this past Valentine’s Day was the release date for Arrow, the newest offering by The Heartless Bastards. Their first album on Partisan records, and produced in the home recording studio of Spoon’s Jim Eno, Arrow was released accompanying the hype of both the fans and the band.
According to vocalist Erika Wennerstrom in interviews preceding the release, Arrow was a venture into unfamiliar musical areas. However infusing new instruments like the banjo and new genres like country didn’t make the album shockingly different from earlier offerings. Like their previous releases, Arrow is a strong step forward, but not a leap.
The album certainly requires more than one listen. From the onset, it seems fairly unoriginal, so slow at times it almost seems to drone on, and very similar from track to track. To the unfamiliar listener, Wennerstrom’s voice takes some getting used to.
Much of that sentiment dissipates after a few listens.
For one, the band’s sound on Arrow is very much in line with Erika Wennerstrom’s general attitude. Wennerstrom, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, is responsible for helping to give the band its sound both with her guitar work and her distinctive voice. Her lyrics are not known for their poetry, but they’re certainly potent, and she pulls no punches. “Skin and Bone,” for example, is the classically nostalgic song about where she calls home. The album is rife with such topics. Even “Got to Have Rock and Roll,” with its innocuous title, delves into Wennerstrom’s emotions, and the role of music in her life.
Moreover, her guitar work has a bluesy, and occasionally hard-hitting rock and roll sound that follows the style of her lyrics. Wennerstrom’s voice is raw, but it’s filled with emotion, and both fits and defines the sound of the band. Her guitar licks are also expertly crafted. While some of the songs are slower, and often mournful, they’re usually sandwiched by true to form rock riffs like “Late in the Night,” giving the album a welcome ebb and flow.
Another reason that it takes a while to warm up to Arrow is due to the musical influences the band drew from. Wennerstrom has stated in interviews that the band would be drawing some cues from country music, and they infused this with the band’s patent sound.
When it all comes together, the result is an effect similar to listening to a group like Hall and Oates or Boston. The music is undeniably good, but there’s some kind of stigma attached to it at first listen. There’s a necessary process of looking past that to actually assess the music on its own.
Arrow occasionally has hints of mainstream country many love to hate. At other times, it has the rock and roll sound most at home in a dive bar. It walks the line between the two genres, and the hybrid, along with the other elements that give The Heartless Bastards their sound, pulls it together, and makes Arrow worth the listen.
Three and a half stars