Luck can play an important role in life. Some hope and wish for it to come their way. For others, it just sort of falls in their lap or for Erika Wennerstrom, it's the name of her band (a wrong multiple choice answer for a trivia game) or it's a person sitting in the audience (Patrick Carney, drummer for The Black Keys).
That particular show brought Wennerstrom and Carney in contact, which in turn brought Wennerstrom and her band Heartless Bastards to Fat Possum Records, the eventual release of their acclaimed debut album Stairs And Elevators, and soon after that their even more acclaimed sophomore album All This Time.
It wasn't luck that produced the music, but luck sure did play a hand in giving Wennerstrom the freedom to do things her way. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, she would sneak into clubs to experience the local music, recalling that "I would just see those people — my music heroes — hanging out at the bar like everyone else. I could see myself in them. It gave me inspiration to do my own thing" (press release).
Wennerstrom's guitar and voice have been the only constants in the Heartless Bastards' musical evolution. However, for the third full-length album The Mountain, the band welcomed back former members Dave Colvin on drums and Jesse Ebaugh on bass.
The opening title track hits you like the reality of sobering up after a night of heavy bingeing. "Be So Happy" follows with a false reassurance, since not many people could find comfort in the very direct and confrontational motto: "I'm gonna see what tomorrow brings / I'm gonna take it to the world outside."
With its slower tracks, this latest effort feels moodier compared to the more uptempo All This Time. There are a few livelier tracks like "Early In The Morning" and "Out At Sea," but the emotive lyrics of the majority of downtempo tracks have a tendency to overwhelm any hint of a positive message or theme. "Hold Your Head High" might seem uplifting, but the combination of the minimalist gloomy instrumentals and Wennerstrom's 'I've hit rock bottom' vocal styling makes it hard to really empathize and believe that "things will work out [and] soon things will come round again."
The higher production values serve Heartless Bastards with mixed results. On one hand, they've sort of lost their garage rock feel and thus their muddy blues isn't as authentic. However, on the other hand, they've made gains on less Heartless Bastards-type tunes like "Had To Go," in which the additional polish can work to augment their raw sound.