In the more than five years since Heartless Bastards’ last record, frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom has never left us hanging. The heart and soul of the band released an acclaimed album in 2018 under her own name before realizing that Heartless Bastards could be whatever she wanted it to be. Wennerstrom could craft a future for the band to her own liking and continue the journey along her own chosen path. The band’s latest, A Beautiful Life, is the culmination of this, with Wennerstrom at the helm and a mostly fresh lineup backing her immensely hopeful and vibrant songs about the positive power of change.
Wennerstrom’s wavelength on A Beautiful Life is one to strive for. She sings about letting go of the past, wiping away the tears, and stepping into the light, set to arrangements that run the gamut of trippy psych-rock and buoyant pop. That powerful bellow of hers is still her clearest and brightest instrument. Wennerstrom may have begun working on fragments of these songs decades ago, but the way they’ve reached their final form — particularly in our current state of endless dread — feels so fitting for this moment in time. “Moving on to new horizons / Opening doors and eyes and / I think it’s the start of something new,” she sings on “The River,” a flowy song that puts the listener in an almost hypnotic dream state. The shimmering, percussive “Went Around the World” finds her “living in the moment.” And on the elevated groove “How Low,” she implores “Let’s all fill up with love” amid rising temperatures, the suffocation of capitalism, and “needless suffering.” The Wennerstom of A Beautiful Life is an enlightened one, leading us into better days.
But it’s the album’s most personal song that is its opus. “The Thinker” is Wennerstrom recounting her personal journey toward self-love and contentment. “You see I started out in Texas trying to reach the ocean via the mountains through the desert and the shore / I got lost inside an hourglass and had to ask what I’m even doing anymore,” she sings in a heady, meditative tone. “The only thing I want to rule is myself.” Before she could spread the good word, Wennerstrom had to do the work on herself, and it’s so chronicled beautifully here.