Heartless Bastards – The Mountain Heartless Bastards – The Mountain

Heartless Bastards - The Mountain

Heartless Bastards - The Mountain

The Heartless Bastards’ output is a lot like the evolution of the universe. Ever since the supernova eruption of their 2005 debut “Stairs and Elevators”, a fierce and tightly wound delta blues rave-up that seethed punk energy, their releases have become progressively more expansive and cooled off. 2006’s “All This Time” toned down the trio’s volume and speed to let the beauty of Erika Wennerstrom’s songwriting and killer voice shine through, yielding equally gorgeous and pummeling results.

Now on their third album “The Mountain,” the Bastards’ universe is comprised of a handful of cold planets separated by vacuums of stagnant acoustic numbers. While Wennerstrom’s distinctly elemental two and three-chord songwriting is still intact, the songs take their sweet time and elicit near-lethargic performances out of all musicians involved. The rock tunes refuse to creep out of their mid-volume comfort zones, and the few moments of escalation and outburst fall flat due to a constricting and too-crisp production. These songs are pleasant enough, such as the opening title track which features some amicable slide guitar sweeps and the swampy “Out At Sea,” but the hooks and soaring vocals from their past two records have gone missing, leaving this album quickly forgettable. Wennerstrom’s rich, brawny voice is arguably the best ingredient in the Bastards’ formula, and it’s frustrating for her vocals to stay so reserved for the duration of a whole album.

“The Mountain’s” infatuation with open space gets grating quickly. Simple progressions soldier on without purpose while staying dynamically static, as on “Hold Your Head High” and “Nothing Seems The Same,” The few strictly acoustic songs, though novel for the band, go nowhere fast. “Had To Go” crosses the seven-minute mark courtesy of an inanely extended bluegrass jam on a single strummy chord. This album’s saving graces come in the form of “Early in the Morning,” its one moment of unhinged rock n’ roll, and closer “Sway,” which harkens back to the more effete pop material from “All This Time,” a final reminder that the best moments on “The Mountain” are great because they sound like their old records. While this album never achieves full-on boredom (it is a Heartless Bastards album after all), they’ve set themselves up to make a dangerously bland fourth record.

-Michael Squeri

Heartless Bastards - The Mountain, reviewed by Squeri on 2009-02-26T21:50:15-08:00 rating 2.3 out of 5

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