Cincinnati, 2003. “Heartless Bastards” was incorrectly answered when a multiple-choice trivia game question asked, “What is the name of Tom Petty’s backing band?” From this amusing origin Erika Wennerstrom’s band “Heartless Bastards” was born. It began as a recording project but eventually evolved into a live band backed by a revolving collection of musicians. After playing regularly in the Midwest, Heartless Bastards got into the game when Patrick Carney of the Black Keys was taken with the band and passed on their demo to his label at the time, Fat Possum Records. By 2009 David Colvin, Jesse Ebaugh, and Mark Nathan had joined on drums, bass, and guitar to complete the group. Between 2009 and 2015 the 4-piece recorded several critically acclaimed albums, but for the last 5 years, fans have been craving something new. Well, some good news: the wait is finally over! Heartless Bastards are back in the studio to record an album featuring the same tried and true musicality that their fans have come to know and love: Wennerstrom’s paradoxical vocals that simultaneously exist in the planes of sweetness and intimacy but also grit and depth, and the band’s smoky blues sound.
Wennerstroms describes “Revolution” as a lesson in self-love and how it’s the key to a more tolerant society. She believes that humanity needs to learn how to be satisfied with less and to stop needing to feel like they’re better than others in order to validate themselves. For her, “Revolution” is both a mantra and a reminder for herself to avoid playing the commercialism-driven game and to focus on connecting and helping people rather than “beating” them at this game. She states “Dave Chapelle said at a show years ago “Poverty is a state of mind.” That really stuck with me. I was in the Amazon several years ago, and it struck me how little people had materially, and children were running around and they all seemed so happy. Aside from the basic necessities of sustaining our lives I think giving and receiving love is really what we need the most. All the rest is just a bunch of noise.”
“Revolution”, however, is anything but noise. It begins with a soft acoustic guitar that rivals the passionate title. Then it builds steadily, layering heavy guitar and marching band-like drums under Wennerstrom’s unique vocals that remind one of Colin Meloy (The Decemberists). It continues on like this until it revolts into this classic blues-rock song decorated with short guitar licks. The chorus’ recurrent phrase “the Revolution is in your mind” recalls the quote from Chapelle, “Poverty is a state of mind,” perhaps nodding to its sentiment. This is a song that is immediately gratifying on the first listen, but if you dig a little deeper there’s a whole lot of insight to be found.
The track is out on Bandcamp, and a portion of the proceeds will be going to the ACLU in support of civil rights. Listen here!
Here to write anthems for future generations, multi-instrumentalist Michael Desmond inspires the people of the world to march to the beat of their own drum with his forthcoming EP Local Nomad. The EP is part of Desmond’s project, also called Local Nomad. He gives insight into the dichotomous name by saying “Local Nomad is the resistance of sedentary life. It’s about seeking the strange and embracing the unknown. Wondering. Wandering. Young and Old. Everywhere and Nowhere.” Desmond plays every instrument on the EP excluding drums. He draws from a variety of sources including Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, and Phil Collins to produce a fusion of indie-pop and alt-rock with soulful vocals, heavenly synths, and lustrous drum beats. Originally from Long Island, NY, Desmond began his career as the frontman of the orchestral indie rock band Gabriel the Marine. The band found success and performed with bands like Taking Back Sunday, Glassjaw, Mew, Jacks Mannequin, and The Dear Hunter. However, after going through a period of rapid change in which he graduated from college, ended a long term relationship, and watched a family member tragically pass away, Desmond’s mind was racing a mile a minute. The only way he could slow things down was to write, and thus Local Nomad was born as a snapshot of life during this unstable time.
While Local Nomad is worth listening to for Desmond’s expert and fascinating use of instruments to create an array of idiosyncrasies within each track, there are also captivating overarching qualities that will intrigue even those who might want to listen passively.
The anger-fueled opening bop “Love is Gone” and rueful “Young Vampires” are “explosion” songs. “Love is Gone” keeps things chill with an alluringly groovy bassline in the verses, before erupting into sound in the chorus. It’s vocal line is compelling and surprising, you find yourself listening intensely to see what will come next. “Young Vampires” is about a toxic relationship, turning each other into vampires– monsters. It displays wistful guitar in the verses but also has a sonic explosion in the chorus.
“Gates” and “Getting Old is a Bitch” are more self-contained, but each have a quiet, yet powerful energy. The contagious beat in the chorus of “Gates” leaves you no choice but to jam along. All of the instrument parts in “Getting Old is a Bitch” are pertinent to the feeling of getting old. It also has a dominant bass beat and riff that hits you hard, much like growing up does. The “do-do-do”’s in the background almost sound like they’re taunting each of the melancholic main lines. Turmoil and instability in the distorted guitar solo reflects how it feels as the world seems to be moving on without you.
Finally, we have those songs that “clash,” although their conflicting elements end up working to their advantage. “Gates” elevates the sound to a celestial sphere with ethereal synths, but at the same time, the hearty guitar brings things back down, adding a wholesome, down-to-earth quality. A great guitar riff comes in towards the end, but it has that heavy rock sound to it, providing a deep contrast with the synth. The clash in “Summertime”, on the other hand, comes from the happy-go-lucky synth harmonies set against the wistfulness of days gone by in the lyrics. It’s about young adults trying to keep up with life and thinking back on the naivety of their youth. With the beat, sunny harmonies, and fluttering synths, you find yourself thrown back into a summer from years ago, tinged with nostalgia and regret. These tracks are dichotomies, much like the name Local Nomad itself, and the crunch between their conflicting qualities make them ever-so satisfying to listen to.
There’s a lot of potential in Local Nomad to discover more unique elements in the tracks, but no matter what you’re guaranteed to hear some anthems with great beats, full, well-rounded choruses, and colourful instrumentation. The EP will be released on July 10, 2020, but some of the singles are available to stream now!
Toronto-based producer, songwriter, and singer Kennen first wrote “City Lights” at 16, but recently decided to use his production talents to really bring the song to life. It depicts an idealistic romance– the picture-perfect relationship that eludes him even now. Thick textured, soft-edged samples create this sense of complete ease under city lights and the night sky. The young artist shares that as someone who feels like he’s missing out on those “main-character moments” you see in coming-of-age films, that “City Lights” is a chance for himself and his listeners to immerse themselves in a life of young and carefree moments, if only for 3 minutes. One thing that caught my ear is that the music, even Kennen’s voice, sounds somewhat removed, creating the dreaminess of an imagined scenario. Aside from the imagery and mood, there are several features in the track to listen for, one being the stop and go music around the chorus, creating a beat in the silences. It gives the effect of a Tokyo street, at peace in the nighttime, and basking in the soft glow of the stars.
Don’t miss out on this charming piece of musical cinema, and listen to “City Lights” on your preferred platform.
Dive into the raw innermost thoughts of Michael McArthur with his profoundly personal EP Oh, Sedona. Over a decade ago McArthur gave up his stake in the bistro he owned with his brother and left to pursue music. His career launched swiftly, but as he was playing cross-country tours, alone or with an ensemble as large as the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, he grew closer to losing himself, and farther away from his wife. After 8 active years he brought things to a halt to rebuild his marriage and himself. Incidentally, he sparked one of his most creative bouts thus far. The result was his acclaimed 2019 album Ever Green, Ever Rain, which was the first release on his own label, Dark River Records.
On Oh, Sedona and his other EP that is still to come, How to Fall in Love, McArthur offers some acoustic renditions of songs from Ever Green, Ever Rain such as “We Live & We Die”, and “Wild in the Blood”, but keeps things fresh with new tracks as well. A man who has always used songwriting as a form of therapy, McArthur’s music is a lifeline that he is tossing out into the world for anyone who might need a hand, especially in a time when the physical connection of a live concert isn’t possible. That being said, he also wanted the recordings to imitate how songs take shape in a live setting: “Performed in the way that I wrote them, there’s something about the uncovering of a song that invites you to reach down a little deeper. To listen with both ears. To be at ease.” The introspective artist says that the integrity of the songs depends on them being revealed in their most fundamental form. The title track, “Oh Sedona”, is written in remembrance of his recently departed grandmother and her influence on his life, whose funeral has unfortunately been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. The song puts this immeasurably mournful experience into a different light. McArthur says “You can’t know the importance of a funeral, of that collective remembering, the final farewell, until you’ve attended one, or until you’re unable to.” It’s this kind of heavy emotion that unifies the EP, and invites the listener to dig deep.
While emotion is the glue that holds Oh, Sedona together, McArthur’s voice is undoubtedly the crowning feature. It is in many ways the quintessential American folk voice, tinged with vibrato, earthy and absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, I could go on and on about it. “Oh, Sedona” first showcases the powerful conviction that is ubiquitous in the vocals of all of the tracks. The ends of his falsetto lines in “We Live & We Die”, “Wild in the Blood”, and “Elaine” diffuse into the silences, like a breath of relief. “We Live & We Die” as well as “Elaine” also highlight his lower, more robust voice which is equally potent.
Despite being closely intertwined, each of the four original tracks have something unique to offer. The idea of not being able to say goodbye in “Oh, Sedona” gives it a heartbreaking intimacy that intensifies in the middle of the song before coming back down to rest, quietly melancholic. The entire tune is so down to earth, from the unplugged sound to the harmonica to the open-hearted subject. “We Live & We Die” begins with some intriguing rubato guitar picking and yearning suspended chords that build the tension until the pain consumes McArthur at the end, sending shivers down your spine. “Wild in the Blood” sneaks up on you. It has this sweeping sadness that you don’t notice is building up until it overtakes you. “Elaine” features touching lyrics whose intimacy and tenderness is deepened by the name in the title.
The cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” deserves its own consideration. Piano, drums, synth strings, and various other instruments create the grand slow-jam feel of the 8 minute long original tune. It features a guitar solo, soulful harmonies, and Prince’s unmatched voice. McArthur completely strips it down, cutting out 4 minutes and trading in all the instruments for acoustic guitar. It’s completely his own take. The soul is still there, but instead of McArthur trying to simulate Prince’s soul, it’s McArthur using the original song’s words and melodies to bare his own soul. He exchanges the epic slow-jam feel for his token sincere and intimate sound, allowing the cover to adopt the same tone as the rest of the EP.
Oh, Sedona is a raw, genuine expression of poignancy, and worth feeling vulnerable for. It’s available on all major streaming services, as will How to Fall in Love on August 14th, 2020.
Keep up with Michael McArthur here.
When L.A. born singer-songwriter Niki Black wrote her new single “American Spirits” back in September of 2019, she had no idea how prophetic her words were. The track was originally supposed to be a contemplative look back at her American experience as she prepared to move to Paris to pursue a master’s in philosophy and art history. All throughout this past year, she has been releasing singles from her highly anticipated album LILITH, but she was saving “American Spirits.” After the recent events that transpired in the US, she decided to release this one-off single because, as Nina Simone once mused, “it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times.” The result? A poignant commentary on American today which answers the questions “What does it mean to have American spirit?” and “Can I still connect with my American Spirits as the daughter of an Iranian immigrant mother?” by saying “Yes, I can and I will,” but not without confronting America’s “bloody conception and its chaotic, violent reality today.”
Although originally from L.A., Black’s father grew up in Chicago, and her mother in Iran, giving her an expansive range of influences to work with, from the blues to the sounds of Iranian pop legend Googoosh. The uniqueness of her “ahs” in “American Spirits” in particular points to this mixed heritage of hers, but reverberations of it are felt throughout. Otherworldliness and ambiance emanate from the transient song, which doesn’t seem to exist within the bounds of genre or time itself. The thing that gives Black an edge, however, is her voice, ringing out sweet but striking. Her words pack a punch of their own, too. “Useless conversations all across the nation,” “violence in our lungs, black as the paths we come from,” are more significant now than ever before. If you weren’t planning to already, I recommend listening to the track with headphones, to better experience the atmosphere and audio panning that fully immerse you within the song. Stream “American Spirits” here, and stay tuned for the official music video (watch the teaser here) which will be released later this month!