Half Hearted Hero - Running Water
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Record Label: Animal Style Records
Describing a pop punk band as "refreshing" or "unique" is something that's done with way too much frequency. As someone who reviews a lot of albums in the genre, I admit to being guilty of throwing those descriptions around too much, of being too loose at times with what I consider to be unique. Despite that, I am sure of this: there aren't many bands right now that are making music like Half Hearted Hero.
It's easy enough to classify the New Bedford, Mass., natives as a pop-punk band that leans toward the punk end of the spectrum, but that doesn't really do the band's sound justice. On Running Water, the group's first release for the upcoming Animal Style Records, Half Hearted Hero present us with six abrasive, honest and purely passionate tracks. The six songs take their time, coming in at a hearty 24 minutes - almost as long as some full-length records these days.
Running Water ranges from a raw pop punk sound to something much deeper than that. Similar to bands like Transit and Fireworks, Half Hearted Hero has the ability to take things a notch further. They use their talents in a way that stretches the boundaries of a usually somewhat limited genre. Yeah, they give you the hook to draw you in, but they aren't afraid to swing for the fences and bust out with an epic, brilliantly composed instrumental part.
The five-piece aren't concerned about being all that accessible or appealing to fans of the poppier side of the genre. They're more likely to appeal to punk fans and those who are willing to take the time to appreciate a band doing something unique just because they want to. Opener "Five Points" gives us a violin intro that leads into a blunt guitar hook. The technicality present in Clinton Lisboa and A.J. Mills' guitar work is something that is impossible to ignore, easily intriguing new listeners right from the beginning.
A little more than halfway into the track, Anthony Savino's vocals cut out for a while to let the guitars and the relentless rhythm section of Meyer Brown's bass and Ian Legge's drums do the talking. After a head-banging instrumental part, Savino's rough vocals slide back in as he belts out, "Is this my nature / Have I a greater cause?"
So what we've got on our hands here, reader, is not only a pop punk group that's not afraid to step out of the box, but an intelligent and thoughtful group at that. These guys don't jip you on the lyrics like some groups in the genre do; found here will be no cliches, no ramblings and no filler prose. Just heartfelt lyricism that never beats around the bush, but instead dives right in. "Periphery" and "The Wheels" feature the best hooks on the EP, and Savino's lyrics again become a focal point. You can almost see him screaming, "You'll never be alone / Unless you have your doubts," right in your face on the former.
Half Hearted Hero sort of eases listeners into its most extravagant attempts on Running Water. "Periphery" has a cool, ambience-centric guitar part towards the end that paces Savino's vocals, while "The Wheels" features Brown's backup vocals making an impactful appearance. As the song seemingly ends, we're treated to a fantastic acoustic guitar-centered instrumental portion that leads into standout "Mirrors."
The musicianship on "Mirrors" is the most ambitious on Running Water, from the ballsy guitar solo to the heavy-handed bridge. Half Hearted Hero never gets more personal and never is more raw than they are on this track, which has the feel of a closer even though there's still another song waiting for us. After the aforementioned solo, Savino serves up this gem: "What is one to do / When the working day catches up with you? / I will lend a hand if you need / Running water to your olive tree." An echo of whoa-oh's lead into the best of Half Hearted Hero's many impressive musical portions, a fantastic moment that is sure to send shivers down more than a few spines.
Like I said, there is another song that lies after "Mirrors," but "Samaritan Pact" can't match the intensity of its predecessor. Not to say that it's a poor track; I think almost anything would get overlooked after a track as enormous as "Mirrors." It's songs like that when you can stop and realize that this band loves what it's doing, that these guys put everything they have into their music and that there's nothing else they want to do more.
Now I always make it a rule to keep EPs separate from the AOTY discussion, but Running Water is one of my favorite releases this year. Records from Bayside, Red City Radio and Yellowcard are topping my list at the moment but Half Hearted Hero is an unexpectedly great addition to the mix. Every year, it's fun to make a most anticipated list, but every year that list is usually the first to be thrown away. Half Hearted Hero have provided the first release of 2011 to truly blindside me and catch me off guard. So attention to all pop punk bands hoping to release an EP during the remainder of the calendar year: it is now April and Half Hearted Hero is now setting the bar. Seeing someone top it would be a win-win for us all.
Welp this review is way too long and I tried to cut it down but it was hard. Was 200 words longer at one point. Honestly though, I'd be surprised if another EP tops this one. This would have topped my 2010 EP list.
Just starting to give this a listen after reading this, and one of the first things that struck me is how different the guitar work/tone is from just about everyone in the pop punk game right now, in a very good way. Also, the production on the vocals is nice, as one of my biggest gripes with modern pop punk production is how it seems the vocals really commonly overpower the instrumental tracks, and it always seems to be the bands with the weaker singers that suffer from this. As much I love Transit and Fireworks, I feel like they're the two best examples of this.
In terms of musicianship and originality, I don't think a single band tops this one within the genre. And the emotion on a number of their songs is unparalleled. I almost dare anyone to find a song with more emotion than "Periphery".
From the first time I listened to their full length nearly two years ago, I knew these guys were something special. More than most bands, they truly deserve the support/recognition.