On their fourth album, the Ohio minimalist rockers haven’t made any drastic changes to their aesthetic or approach to songwriting, but there is a discernable increase in the quality and strength of the tunes that makes it the band’s best record so far.
The Bastards have always been a vehicle to showcase Erika Wennerstrom’s wonderfully androgynous and powerful voice that sounds like it would be just as at home belting tunes about black magic and dark spirits as it is personal tales of love, loss and general weariness, the latter which she tends to opt for.
On “Marathon,” the six-minute opener to Arrow, Wennerstrom uses the race as a metaphor for being on the road, being alone and trying to find her way back home. As the song ascends from a quiet and simple chord progression to chaotic dynamics with Wennerstrom declaring that “I’m on my way home,” it represents the band at their best—honest, emotionally charged and easy to connect with. On the record’s first single “Parted Ways,” she continues with the same theme. Mourning a lost love, she sings about the hum of the wheels and being a long way from home, but this time over a bouncy progression with a proper guitar solo. When she sings “I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time, to ease my troubled mind,” she pretty much sums up what its like to listen to a Heartless Bastards record, particularly this one. Put it on, pour yourself a drink, and things will probably start to make a little more sense.
Wennerstrom takes a break from the introspective road tales and professes the healing power of rock ‘n’ roll on the banger “Got To Have Rock and Roll,” and the balls-to-wall “Simple Feeling” is the band’s biggest sonic departure from their standard blues-rock fare.
Where the second half of their good-not-great record The Mountain wore thin, on Arrow the band starts remarkably strong and finishes almost just as well. “Late In The Night” is a riffed-out rocker that was nowhere to be found on the strum-heavy The Mountain and the fuzzed-out riff on closer “Down In The Canyon” is the closest they’ve ever come to sounding like The Black Keys (a band they’ve often been compared to, but one that always seemed more about genre and geographical similarities than anything else). And the jam that song turns into clearly illustrates the Bastards are just a better band than they were before.
Wennerstrom has said that this is the most cohesive that they have been as a band when recording an album, and the evidence couldn’t be more abundant.