The Heartless Bastards are a no-bullshit kind of band. They have to be. When you’re on a well-established blues label such as Fat Possum, you have to leave the B.S. behind. As people, the Bastards (not to be confused with Lars Frederiksen’s band) are three musicians from Dayton who gave up mundane day jobs for playing some loud, righteous rock `n’ roll. Their debut Stairs and Elevators isn’t any fancier than their origins are, but it has a few essential elements that never fail: good songs, hooks and a fair amount of distortion.
The easiest way to describe The Heartless Bastards is to say they’re a cross between The Breeders and The Ramones. Maybe with a little bit of Kim Deal’s other band, thrown in. And no, I’m not talking about the Amps. Lead singer Erika Wennerstrom is likely to earn comparisons to Karen O of the triple-Yeahs, as her voice sounds quite a bit like that erratic frontwoman. But the music, as stated before, is more straightforward. “Gray” is two chords of steady, distorted rock and roll with Wennerstrom’s super catchy vocal melody when she sings “Sometimes I feel a little bit/gray in the autumn, gray in the autumn.” And the standout “New Resolution” borrows the bassline from “Blitzkrieg Bop,” though continues a pattern of tribal drumming beneath a guitarless verse.
When the band stretches past three minutes, they can do even more damage. “Runnin,” which goes just over the five-minute mark is a soulful ballad that sounds right at home with the Fat Possum label behind it, or even more so, Atco’s, as it sounds a lot like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The following track, “Autonomy,” is just a tad bit shorter, but moves away from soulful R&B for a more epic rock approach.
But remember that thing I said about no bullshit? That goes for song titles, too, especially “The Will Song,” “Swamp Song” and “Piano Song.” And guess what? “Swamp Song” is swampy and there’s piano in “Piano Song,” which borrows more from classic rock, and this time around, “Imagine” is the song that comes to mind. There aren’t any ironic song titles to be found here, nor is there much smart-assed-ness in any of the songs at all, which is refreshing now and then.
The Heartless Bastards seem to be lying to us, because heart is the one thing that they have more than anything else. They’re not bad songwriters, but without the feeling and sincerity they put into it, these songs wouldn’t be nearly as good. Maybe there is some irony on this record after all.
The Breeders – Last Splash
Black Keys – Rubber Factory
Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.