The band's current lineup -- Wennerstrom (guitar, vocals), Jesse Ebaugh (bass), Dave Colvin (drums) and Mark Nathan (guitar) -- play either soulful garage rock or garage-influenced soul from the wide open spaces of Austin. Theirs is the sort of fame modest enough for the nightclub tour circuit but big enough for its britches to make end-of-year notable mention lists whenever they release a record, which, fortunately, is happening soon.
In fact, this Live at KDHX session spotlights four songs on the forthcoming release "Arrow."
The band expanded its audience with "The Mountain," from 2009, an album that was critically acclaimed for the aching, understated current of yearning that characterizes Wennerstrom's songwriting -- do not listen to "Sway" if you have just been dumped and there is a bottle of spirits in front of you. However, it's the 2006 record "All This Time" that stays in heavy rotation in my iTunes library. "All This Time," in fact (from the record of the same name), is a gorgeous love song that showcases Wennerstrom's extraordinary voice, which, as the music builds, swells from a garbled whisper to full-fledged howling. Chunky, bright guitars and rolling drums belie Wennerstrom's confessional lyrics. She has said that most of her songs are first picked out on an acoustic, which despite the electrifying power of each finished product makes sense with each listen.
"Arrow" (Partisan Records) is the Bastards' latest, produced at Spoon drummer Jim Eno's house in Austin. It ought to come with a Surgeon General's warning: Use caution if you have a pre-existing heart condition. The big single is probably "Parted Ways," an upbeat track about shaking off a breakup and a rust-belt hometown, all at the same time. "I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time to ease my troubled mind," croons Wennerstrom before an arena-sized guitar solo kicks in, courtesy of recent addition Mark Nathan. Meanwhile, "Low Low Low" is the requisite soundtrack for young adult disaffection: it begins with a languid, plucking melody as Wennerstrom wails, "I left my home and started to roam / A new beginning out on my own."
This is a strong record that sounds a little cleaner than some of the band's earlier work without a whole lot of extra production evident. Where "All This Time" is the type of crashing, restless dysphoria straight out of a garage during a dim Midwest winter, I imagine "Arrow" played in a field under a cloudless Texas sky. More heartfelt than heartless, the new record is coming out on February 14 just in time to buy one for someone special -- and maybe one for yourself just in case your Valentine doesn't make it to St. Patrick's Day.
All photos by Louis Kwok.