Album Review: Heartless Bastards, ‘Restless Ones’
Heartless Bastards frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom may be adamant (in an official press statement) that the Austin-via-Cincinnati quartet is always looking to change up its style from album to album, but on their fifth go-round, the Heartless Bastards sound more resolute than restless. And that's not a bad thing. Even in its quieter, more reflective moments (the swirling psychedelic cloud of album closer "Tristessa," the unrushed Exile on Main Street groove of "Black Cloud," the twangy ballad, "Pocket Full of Thirst," etc), Restless Ones unfolds with the confidence of a rodeo champion clomping their boots across a wood floor to order a drink -- and managing to look graceful doing it. In fact, Wennerstrom and company put a swagger in their rock that startles us into the realization that maybe we haven't seen this kind of swagger in decades.
Restless Ones opens with "Wind Up Bird," a scorching, slow-churning funnel cloud of guitar inspired by author Haruki Murakami. The band sounds immediately strident and focused, and there is a palpable sense of heat coming through the music, as if the listener were standing in the humidity of a desert about to get a rare lashing of rain. Fittingly, the band chose to record the album over a very focused (and communal) 10-day period at El Paso's sprawling Sonic Ranch recording complex (which borders Mexico and the Rio Grande). Free of distractions and the feeling of coming and going that comes with recording in one's hometown, the entire band remained present for all overdubs. The cohesion shows. Bigger, more immediate, and more charged with volatililty than the band's 2012 breakthrough Arrow, Restless Ones suggests that the Heartless Bastards might actually be getting hungrier with each successive album.