Heartless Bastards are an earthy band. That goes beyond their album titled The Mountain or their buffalo-centric art work. The Ohioan garage rockers have always played their blues with a strange sort of tectonic power, with a love for rumbling guitars aided by Erika Wennerstrom’s mystic croon. Restless Ones finds the band infusing their sound with another source of energy: all of their solos and fiery choruses seem solar powered, and the dusty, anthemic and arena ready record is all the better for it.
Despite the blues-rock foundation and occasional lo-fi fuzz, Restless Ones is a wonderfully polished album. “Hi Line” serves as the instantly catchy single: warm harmonies twist and turn around Wennerstrom as an equally comforting bass line holds everything together. The chorus cuts things to half time, just before the rippling mandolin announces the return of the verse. There’s a hint of ‘90s alt-rock here, a bit of “Interstate Love Song” or something of the sort running through the blood of “Hi Line.” “Gates of Dawn” holds an indie-ish guitar layer in its chorus, reminiscent of Pavement, and it’s one of the catchiest moments here. These are the most obvious, pop-like pieces, but Heartless Bastards happily convert those sleeker stylings into the nooks and crannies of Restless Ones.
“Wind Up Bird” opens the album with sky-high guitar leads, before slowing down to a molasses like pace in the verse. Wennerstrom often takes the center stage through her voice and lyrics, but Restless Ones is a guitar album through and through. This guitar-centric style is not in the Eddie Van Halen sense, but in the fun yet utterly composed way that propels the entire album. That’s not a slight toward bassist Jesse Ebaugh’s work. His chugging and grooving bass completely controls the driven rhythm of “The Fool” up until the chorus, where Wennerstrom takes over. In a herky-jerky groove, Wennerstrom and an accompanying harmony proclaim she’s the titular “fool”, but it still manages to sound sunny.
Wennerstrom’s warm, worn voice is the core of Restless Ones. Everything, from the drum fills to the guitar effects seems sun-soaked, but Wennerstrom’s tales of travel and longing that make the album a summer/roadtrip must have — doesn’t hurt to have song titles like “Journey”, either. In fact, it’s that song that lays out one of Restless Ones’ central themes. Wennerstrom details a consuming laziness that’s soon combated by the “the bustle of the city is making me want to thrive / we’re making our way to the sun.” The chorus goes “now it’s suddenly clear, the journey’s the destination”; an old cliché, true, but this, dusty, rusty album finds so much joy in the detours that it’s hard to argue with its wanderlust logic. “Pocket Full of Thirst” follows “Journey” and is one of the album’s most stripped back tracks, with dusky guitars and light tom hits accenting Wennerstrom’s “sleep walking” and her mournful descriptions of how she “set myself on fire / and jumped into the lake / disguise myself as someone else / so you could not break me.” It’s certainly not as upbeat as “Journey”, but, like the rest of the album, it speaks to a basic need. As fellow alt-country vagabond Shakey Graves said, some of us are built to roam.
It should be noted that Restless Ones has a time stamped enjoyment limit. The warmth the album brings is increased exponentially by summer heat, hiking and long midday drives, but there’s something lost when the bouncy joy of “The Fool” is placed next to a rainy day. But who knows? it might have the power to force a few rays of light to burst forth in the cooler months.