By Erik Thompson
Change is in the air for Heartless Bastards.
After releasing their first song in five years last July — the fittingly titled “Revolution” — Heartless Bastards founder and frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom has now readied a brand new album, A Beautiful Life, set for release in September.
So much has changed since the band’s last record, 2015’s Restless Ones. Heartless Bastards' sixth LP compassionately reflects on the social, political and personal uprisings that have rippled across the country and the world in recent years. The first lyrics we hear Wennerstrom sing on A Beautiful Life are a merciful plea for empathy and understanding: “People, can we get together and help each other out?”
While Wennerstrom’s lyrics have an underlying urgency to them, imploring our society to change for the better and love each other more, the arrangements on A Beautiful Life have a relaxed, easygoing vibe to them. As if a group of old friends have gathered on their front porch late one night to offer up some musical prayers to the goddess of the moon. Those warm tones provide a welcome balance to the unrelenting chaos and fraught sense of uncertainty of our modern world, while spacious riffs and calming, string and piano-laden melodies serve to quiet our restless minds — if only for a brief moment.
But Wennerstrom’s golden vocals rightfully are placed front and center in the mix throughout the LP, with her lyrics augmented — but never overwhelmed — by the lush arrangements of the songs themselves. On “How Low,” Wennerstrom tenderly sings of a desire for acceptance and empathy that has been in short supply as of late. “Sometimes I can hardly take it / All the world has so much needless suffering,” she sings. “Let’s lift each other up now / And just let each other be.”
The themes that Wennerstrom spoke of regarding “Revolution” are elaborated upon and amplified on A Beautiful Life. “Revolution is about self love. I think if people loved themselves more there wouldn’t be racism, bigotry, and classism,” says the singer. “Some people are so worried that there is not enough pie to go around, and that lifting up others limits their own opportunity. The more man attempts to look at the world from another man's perspective it becomes apparent how connected we all really are.”
Musically speaking, A Beautiful Life is an exploration of familiar sounds from the past and present, with echoes of the easy charm of Patsy Cline and the classic Brill Building sounds that dominated the radio dials throughout the Sixties. There are also contemporary nods to the Latin rhythms and French chanson flair of Beirut, the expansive Southern rock sound of the Allman Brothers and the rustic country twang of Townes Van Zandt. All filtered through the brilliant artistry, creative vision and deft musicianship that Heartless Bastards have made their name on, of course.
Ultimately, this albums is a search for personal balance in an unsteady world, an attempt to lower the collective temperature of a world grown far too heated, a desire to ease the suffering of others by understanding where they have been and helping them get to where they need to go. After far too long away, Heartless Bastards have returned to help us make some sense out of a modern society that has grown isolated instead of inclusive, where everyone takes sides instead of taking care of those in need, where people call each other out instead of holding each other close. Music has the power to unite us in a time of division, and these stirring, evocative new songs from Heartless Bastards might just get us to love a little bit more and listen a little bit better.
Wouldn’t that be a beautiful life, indeed?
Bandbox is excited to offer Heartless Bastards' A Beautiful Life on metallic gold vinyl! The Bandbox exclusive edition of the album, which drops September 10, will be accompanied by a Heartless Bastards zine featuring an interview with frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom, rare photos and more! Limited to 500 copies.