Released earlier this year, the debut EP from Indiana’s The Heavy Co., is unpretentious almost to the point of humility. The Heavy (Please Tune In…) is its own instructions, and across the varied 23 minutes of the six tracks, the trio seem earnest in their asking. They do say “please,” after all. The Heavy Co. (also written out in full as The Heavy Company) formed in 2008 and have a subtle and atmospheric take on heavy blues, at times veering into desert rock on the EP, and can alternately convey a sense of darkness or calm. At their “heaviest,” they seem to be coming more from a place of ambience than sonics, and the vocals of guitarist Ian Gerber back up that idea with a mostly laid back approach that’s at times overly afflicted with the blues but mostly right in line with what the song as a whole warrants. Gerber is joined in The Heavy Co. by the deft bass work of Ryan Strawsma and the traditionally-aligned rock drumming of Jeff Kaleth, and all three manage to impress in their own way, and though guest organ and blues harp from Chad Cutsinger and percussion from Jace Epple do add flourish to the tracks (Epple’s harmonica solo on “Black Tuesday” is charming enough to make that song a highlight), the band are never nearly as jammingly psychedelic as their mushroom-laden front cover might have you believe.
That’s not to say they’ll never get there if they want to, just that they’re not there now. However, The Heavy (Please Tune In…) does open in such a way that puts the focus immediately on atmosphere – the two-minute “Please Tune In…” ambient piece introduces the subtlety that will typify most of The Heavy Co.’s musical personality. Spacious, soft guitar notes ring out while Kaleth offers low-mixed (rightly for what they’re doing) fills behind. Gerber intros “The Heavy” himself with Strawsma’s warm accenting notes behind, and Cutsinger’s organ gives flavor to the song, which has a slightly Southern bent, mostly in the vocals. There’s a Doors-feel to Cutsinger’s playing, but it’s more “Riders on the Storm” than the theatrical “Light My Fire.” Again, “The Heavy” lives up to its name for the atmosphere it conveys, and it’s really more about the chill than the thunderous bombast. The vaguely Skynyrd-esque “Black Tuesday” taps into Hoosier rural tones without sounding foolish, coming off like a more countrified Against Nature, particularly as regards Gerber’s guitar tone and vocals. It’s the second catchiest chorus on The Heavy (Please Tune In…) to the closing “Caged Bird,” and Cutsinger once again underscores on organ later on. There’s a deceptive amount happening between Cutsinger, Strawsma’s excellent runs and the layers of Gerber’s guitar, but the six-and-a-half-minute “Wormwood” clears the air with a simple, no-nonsense instrumental groove.
I’m a fan of well-recorded, warm-sounding bass, and in that regard, the funk Strawsma lays down on “Wormwood” makes the EP. Kaleth keeps mostly to his ride and hi-hat – he’s never showy throughout – and Gerber plays catchy high notes off of Strawsma’s righteously thick tone. There’s a slowdown just before four minutes in that leads to an excellent noise-filled guitar solo and then, eventually, to the song’s unfolding and fadeout. That fadeout is an awkward transition into the kind of doobinterlude of “Monsignor Charlie Bird” – a nod to tenor saxophone master Charlie Parker, presumably, that may or may not continue into the closer “Caged Bird” – since it goes to silence before the latter picks up with Gerber’s soft lines. I almost wanted that fadeout to continue while the next track started over it, to have them flow directly into each other like that. In any case, “Monsignor Charlie Bird” is Gerber alone on guitar, smartly putting something between the tracks to break up the sound and have “Caged Bird” stand out even more on the tracklist than it otherwise would through its subtle (there’s that word again) tonal and mood-driven references to Masters of Reality and Stone Axe. The song is The Heavy Co.’s most mature-sounding and accomplished, with Epple’s added percussion in the midsection and a build that pays off in the final chorus enough to account for the entirety of the EP.
A reprisal of the start-stop riff on which much of the song is based caps “Caged Bird” following that last Maya Angelou-referencing chorus and ends The Heavy (Please Tune In…) with an appropriate amount of ceremony given what’s come before, and that’s roughly none. They’re not overly simple or stripped down, but there is a “basic elements” feel to what The Heavy Co. does that, since they do it well, adds to the appeal of their songs. The breadth they show here bodes well for their impending 2012 Midwest Electric full-length – reportedly to be released through their own DPR Records – which will hopefully see them develop the style they’re beginning to establish here. Until then, The Heavy Co. have presented a solid first collection of tracks that are worth checking out for anyone who believes that there’s more to the art of “heavy” than distortion and posturing. Call it “honesty rock.”
Tags: DPR Records, Indiana, Indianapolis, Lafayette, The Heavy Co.