Released January 26, 2017
By Duncan H. Ros
Hearken’s short album begins with the inundated sound of a fuzzy guitar riff laced with chorus, coupled with these raw drums that completely lack decoration in terms of production. It sounds like it was recorded in a cave in black and white as a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack to Nosferatu or White Zombie. The first thing that comes to mind for me, having grown up in the rock scene of Portland, OR is that this band loves the Wipers and Dead Moon. I would bet money on it.
While the Pittsburgh City Paper seems happy to portray Hearken as a sort of redecoration of 90s grunge (in the sense that they’re better than a throwback band while essentially calling them a throwback, albeit nicely) I’m going to argue that they are taking the kernels of what germinated into grunge and playing with the pure form. Let’s use an analogy from Breaking Bad: essentially, if commercial grade “grunge” as sold to the masses is street grade biker crank, the punk / rock conglomeration that was coined “grunge” in the late 80s (not the 90s kids) by the founders of Sub Pop would be Walter White’s blue meth. And that’s what I think Hearken is playing with in Carte Blanche–it’s an unadulterated brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
And they throw down for a two piece–it’s a big sound, and it’s not a tired arrangement like a White Stripes spinoff. Donny Donovan oscillates between street-hassle style talk-singing to long legato melodic wails bubbling out from the cave with plenty of slapback, which is all the rage these days. Donny’s vocal sound seems to be a quaint blend of Julian Casablancas and something out of the British post-punk scene. Greg Brunner’s drumming style is perfect for the overall low-fi sound. He adds energy and gusto more than anything else, and for their style what more could you ask for? It matches the simplicity and effectiveness of the guitars. But what I love about this record is the production. It just beats you over the head.
And I’ll completely agree with the CP that this album would go well on the radio (maybe with a slicker more expensive production), but hopefully they get to that point they won’t have to go through what Sleater-Kinney did in the early 00s–getting rejected by radio producers and DJs because they don’t have a bassist.
See the band live April 27 at Mr. Roboto Project with The Coathangers and Murder For Girls and May 6 at Spider House Shows with Stalemate and Naked Spirit.
Check out Hearken’s EP on bandcamp–it’s less than fifteen minutes long.
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