On the new album A Beautiful Life, Heartless Bastards share a wide-eyed and radiant vision for harmonizing a broken world. The Ohio-bred and Texas-transplanted band’s first new music since 2015’s Restless Ones, A Beautiful Life affirms frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom as a songwriter with the power to profoundly influence our state of mind, often by alchemizing her idealism into viscerally potent rock-and-roll songs. With its delicate coalescence of so many eclectic touchstones—French pop and Celtic folk, space rock and symphonic pop, Disney scores and post-punk—the result is an album that immediately lures the listener into a more receptive mindset, one that leads to deeper generosity, greater compassion, and a restored sense of possibility.
Co-produced by Wennerstrom and Kevin Ratterman (Strand Of Oaks, Jim James, White Reaper), A Beautiful Life finds Wennerstrom joining forces with the likes of guitarist Lauren Gurgiolo (Okkervil River), drummer Greggory Clifford (White Denim), multi-instrumentalist Jesse Chandler (Mercury Rev, Midlake), keyboardist Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), guitarist David Pulkingham (Patty Griffin), and longtime Heartless Bastards bassist Jesse Ebaugh. Although she debated releasing A Beautiful Life as a solo effort (as with 2018’s Sweet Unknown), the Austin-based singer/songwriter ultimately conceived the album as a continuation of the journey begun on the band’s breathlessly acclaimed 2005 debut Stairs and Elevators. “I loved the last iteration of Heartless Bastards so much—they’re like family—but the stars weren’t aligning for us to reconvene on this record,” says Wennerstrom. “As the record came together I realized it’s always been my project, and I was determined to continue forth with that. I had so much faith in these songs and in myself, and in many ways it feels like a rebirth.”
Like many timeless songwriters before her, Wennerstrom channels her nuanced observation of the outside world into music that incites contemplation, catharsis, and a joyful sense of defiance. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the material goals that are prioritized by our society and the every-man-for-himself mentality of late-stage capitalism,” Wennerstrom says of the album’s central themes. “That way of thinking presents a false idea of what a beautiful life is, and I think it’s so important that we as individuals all ask ourselves what it truly means to have a beautiful life.”
Throughout A Beautiful Life, Heartless Bastards guide their audience through an unhurried pondering of that very question, an exploration that begins with the soulfully expressed frustration of songs like “How Low.” “It’s becoming harder and harder to choose a simple life; so many people struggle to get ahead so they don’t get left behind,” says Wennerstrom, who names the Jackson 5 as a key inspiration for the track’s jangly R&B grooves. “I believe that a truly elevated, conscious society is one that seeks to lift each other up—one where we work for the common good.” On “You Never Know,” the band brings in elements of Brazilian bossa nova and yé-yé, arriving at a sweetly spirited anthem against jadedness. “As we get older and experience the pain of certain plans not working out, we can build up walls to protect ourselves,” Wennerstrom says. “This song is a reminder to stay open, stay present, and keep taking chances.”