Band: The Heathens
Album: Big White House
Best Element: Stretching boundaries
Label: Post records
If there is one genre of music that people seem to be the most adverse to, it has to be country. For some reason everyone seems to have a qualm about listening to plucking banjos, crazy fiddles, and that general country sound. I admit that even I have trouble listening to it. Maybe it’s the subject matter associated with the stereotypical country song. Somehow I don’t think that singing about sitting in a truck drinking a six-pack with a dog because feelings were hurt by a loose woman sits well with the majority of the population. Whatever the reason is, country music artists have a need for original material that makes a song keep its country flavor without sounding so….country. In this sense, The Heathens definitely don’t disappoint.
Big White House, The Heathens’ debut album, is surprisingly good for a southern-influenced album. This isn’t to say that alt-country bands haven’t proven to be good in the past. Bands like My Morning Jacket and more prominently Wilco have incorporated southern sounds with modern ideas. By putting a more modern twist on classic southern sound, they give themselves a wider range of listeners. This is exactly what The Heathens were aiming at. Their first single, “Stickin Around,” is the most beautiful of all fifteen tracks, as the violin line is spectacular. After hearing “Lay Me Down” and “Sucker or a Lover,” you might be a little surprised. The beer, trucks, and dogs might have gotten left out, but sexual promiscuity definitely didn’t. It’s not too bad, and it can be forgiven because “Sucker or a Lover” does have a nice trumpet line. As some might notice, this fifteen song album is noticeably divided into two portions. “Family Valiums” marks the turning point from a more classical southern sound to more modern sound. “Sex in Silent Films” turns to a harder sound and is one of the best tracks. The intro and the guitar solos sound like something from The Black Keys, a commendable comparison.
Call me crazy, but I think The Heathens’ album is a little on the long side. Other than that I have no problems with this alt-country work. No nausea, no vomiting. Big White House has a little something for everyone: a little blues, a little rock, and a lot of country. It is albums like this that contribute to the changing face of traditional genres and stretch comfort zones for everyone’s benefit.