PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

Photo: Jason Quigley / Courtesy of All Eyes Media

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

The Band of Heathens


25 September 2020

We are currently living in unusual times. The only sane response is to get strange. The Band of Heathens understand this and have taken things a bit further. Hence their latest record is called Stranger, which contains ten weirdly wonderful songs about everything from a man fighting a panther in the early part of this century to watching the apocalypse in the near future as if the bizarre was the new norm. Or the new Norm, as the name of the character played George Wendt on the TV program Cheers, who inspired the Americana/psychedelic/country opening track "Vietnorm". The Band of Heathens understand the benefits of being odd when the whole world seems creepy and do so with a bounty of vocal riffs, catchy hooks, inspired playing, and creative lyrics.

The songs are the stars here. All of them were written in part or as a whole by band co-founders, vocalists, and guitarists Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist. (The rest of the group consists of Trevor Nealon: keys and vocals; Richard Milsap: drums and vocals; Jesse Wilson: bass and vocals.) The record does not have a central theme as much as a collective consciousness. The individual tracks are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

And of course, the quality of the songs is greatly enhanced by the performances. This is a group with five vocalists who understand the importance of harmony. And when to keep quiet. The beautiful ballad "Call Me Gilded" makes this clear in its chorus, "If silence is golden, call me gilded / I am quiet in love, my heart beats what you speak of." As a whole, this is an unfussy album, especially as compared with the Band of Heathen's previous work. The record was recorded in Portland, Oregon, with producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Camera Obscura), who kept the sound uncluttered and clean.

Consider the mix on the plaintive "South by Somewhere". The vocals are delivered in a straightforward manner with different voices joining in at select moments for embellishment. Distorted electric guitars and such lead the instrumentation, but the bass, keys, and drums take over at times to move the song forward. This captures the tune's lyrical concerns about going nowhere but keeping on trucking for its own sake. The emptiness of the Southern/Southwestern landscape is also evoked. Or as they suggest with the same geographic landscape on the sprightly "Asheville Nashville Austin", the heart of the journey lies in the "spaces in between".

Several songs directly address our current socio-political pandemic situation. "The world is crumbling down," they sing on the jolly "Today Is Our Last Tomorrow". The disparity between the lyrics and the melody suggests the depth of our disconnect. This feeling is reinforced on the more hopeful "Dare" that addresses how to deal with isolation and deprivation by trying to find what's good in the world. "We are here right now " begins the anticipative "Before the Day is Done" that suggests the importance of togetherness. That the Band of Heathens released a new album during these times itself is an expression of hope.

Not every song on Stranger is positive. There are songs about the end of truth and personal betrayal that offer a moral perspective on bad behavior. Even the optimistic tracks acknowledge that not everything is rosy. As a whole, Stranger does suggest that when life gets weird, the best response is to get weirder. What else would one expect from a band originally based in Austin, Texas?


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.