Half Hearted Hero - Whatever
Record Label: Animal Style Records
Release Date: January 15, 2013
New Bedford's Half Hearted Hero are highly skilled musicians and cursed because of it. They are not afraid to break the mold of punk rock's typical song structure and therefore sentenced to be doomed. The band doesn't really mind putting out these releases of odd lengths - in April of 2011, they released a six-song, 24-minute EP titled Running Water, and this new record clocks in at eight tracks and 26 minutes - and because of this, a world of kids accustomed to five-song EPs and 10-song LPs don't know what to treat them as.
Half Hearted Hero is just odd. Similar to bands like No Trigger and A Wilhelm Scream, they're desperately trying to document punk rock's more technical side. They do a damn good job of it, too. Their debut LP, Defining. Refining., was an incredible release and their songwriting improved massively with Running Water, which came out nearly two years ago. Whatever is the group's newest release on Animal Style Records, and again we see the Massachusettsians (Massholes?) changing themselves a little bit.
Whatever has noticeably less hooks in its eight songs than we're accustomed to from Half Hearted Hero, with the band instead deciding to enlist the full potential of their aggressive musicianship. From the opening "Untitled," (seriously guys, Whatever and "Untitled" please try harder at naming stuff) we're subject to impressive guitar work, but the guitar is heavy and challenging. The musicianship isn't so much a knockout punch as it is a series of body blows that break you down as you listen to the entire album. If this sounds unpleasant, well, it isn't. Once again, Half Hearted Hero proves itself to be one of the most technically skilled bands in this community. "Untitled" has a great "breakdown"-ish part in its bridge and vocalist Anthony Savino has no problem delivering his now-familiar throaty yell.
Half Hearted Hero is at its most bruising when it plays fast, and "River" fits this bill. Carried by the drum work, the track builds into a gnarly tempo change that provides a sleepy middle part before a frantic finish. "Framework" and "Good Terms" provide a double-shot of this double-time punk later on in the album as well, but they are offset by two of the more interesting songs in this band's discography. "Vessel" is a mid tempo track that perhaps gives off a Title Fight vibe at times. This is one of the tracks where Savino's passion really comes out - fans of Half Hearted Hero know what I mean when I reference his past performances on songs like "Mirrors" from Running Water - he has an extra gear that is fully exposed on "Vessel." On the direct flip side, "Faint Feeling" is a short acoustic number where Savino's vocals are barely a whisper as the band chooses to instead highlight the guitar work.
The closing title track embodies my previous allusion to a slow, drawn-out series of body blows. It's a loud, punishing final round, sending Whatever out on a high note. The overall quality of this record comes as no surprise to fans of Half Hearted Hero, but it's discouraging to see how underappreciated the group still is. Similar to the aforementioned No Trigger and A Wilhelm Scream, this band might be destined to appeal to a more niche group of listeners who seek out acts that highlight the more technical side of the genre. Either way, Half Hearted Hero shows with Whatever that they can write an addicting record even when they depart from their more "catchy" side. That's a scary thought, because it means they can still learn to strike a perfect balance between the two. Whatever is the first must-listen punk release of 2013.
This record is killer. I definitely agree that there are less hooks than Running Water, and it took me a few listens to warm up to it. But since I've really come to love every track. These guys are so underrated. I know it's far to early for AOTY talk especially since 2013 has so many of my favorite bands releasing new albums, but as of now this and Lights & Sounds "Reanimation" are tied at the top.