Review & Track Premiere: The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines

The Heavy Eyes Love Like Machines

[Click play above to stream ‘Late Night’ from The Heavy Eyes’ Love Like Machines, out March 27 on Kozmik Artifactz. Preorders available here.]

It’s been quite a first decade for the ostensibly Memphis-based four-piece The Heavy Eyes, whose members actually reside at this point in different states and who careen through the riffs of their fourth long-player, Love Like Machines, with a sans-chicanery fluidity that totally undercuts that distance. By the time they got around to their last album, 2015’s He Dreams of Lions (review here), the then-trio had refined their approach to a remarkable degree, building off the methods and the successes of 2012’s Maera and 2011’s Heavy Eyes, as well as concurrent EPs and other short digital offerings, had toured to support their work and, crucially, had found an audience hungry for more.

And though they took part in Magnetic Eye Records‘ tribute to Jimi Hendrix (review here), also in 2015, and issued Live in Memphis (review here) in 2018, there’s no question that the five-year break between their third and fourth full-lengths changes the context in which Love Like Machines arrives. But fair enough. The band itself has also changed, bringing in longtime engineer Matthew Qualls — who has helmed each of their albums, including this one — on guitar and backing vocals as a fourth full-time member of the band alongside vocalist/guitarist Tripp Shumake, bassist Wally Anderson and drummer Eric Garcia, and recommitting themselves to the prospect of recording and touring as The Heavy Eyes.

Their sonic identity remains based around their songwriting, and though Qualls and Garcia both add percussion here and there, Shumake blends acoustic and electric guitar on opener “Anabasis,” and the later pair of “Bright Light” and the especially catchy fuzzer “A Cat Named Haku” dig into highlight low end and drum compression, the overarching impression Love Like Machines makes — the album’s title line delivered in side A’s “Late Night” — is one that can’t help but be considered straightforward with such a focus on structure and such tightness of their performance. The grooves swing and aren’t shy about it, and Shumake‘s vocals and Southern-tinged lyrical patterns can call to mind ClutchAll Them Witches and Valley of the Sun at any given moment — and that’s before you get to the hyper-Queens of the Stone Age vibes of the penultimate “Vera Cruz” (with guest piano by Carmen Fowlkes) — but if The Heavy Eyes are sending a message in this sharp-dressed 10-track/34-minute outing, it’s that they’re getting down to business.

I don’t know whether they’re feeling the weight of the five years it’s taken to manifest their fourth album or what, but beneath the right-on fuzz in the guitars, the good-times hooks of “Made for the Age” and “The Profession,” and the half-intro purpose “Anabasis” serves with its acoustic/electric blend, there’s a strong sense of purpose behind the songs on Love Like Machines, and an audience engagement that comes across as being as far from coincidental as you can get. These songs, written in parts exchanged digitally over state lines and recorded in more than one session with Qualls and guest guitar appearances from Justin Toland of Dirty Streets on “God Damn Wolf Man” and Justin Tracy, who also appeared on Live in Memphis, on “The Profession.”

the heavy eyes

The latter is of particular note as regards the idea of purpose in what The Heavy Eyes are doing on Love Like Machines, since the profession in question — at least somewhat contrary to where one’s mind might go in associating the title — is rock and roll itself, and that song is nothing if not an example of the band’s pro-shop presentation, crisp and assured in its delivery and interesting to the ear without a hint of indulgence on the part of its creators. Even “Hand of Bear,” which might earn a sideways glance for a verse line like, “Copper-color skin, so you’d best beware,” in recounting a story on a Native American theme, is maddeningly catchy — “Whoa, yeah yeah/Guess he earned his name as the Hand of Bear” becomes a signature hook, backing vocals and all.

It is not necessarily a revolutionary approach that The Heavy Eyes are taking, but neither are they directing themselves to the tenets of genre, instead shaping these to suit the needs of their songwriting. Craft is primary. “Made for the Age” is the longest inclusion at 4:51, and no other song on Love Like Machines even touches four minutes (“Vera Cruz” lists at 3:59), with “Late Night,” “God Damn Wolf Man” and “The Profession” under three. Yet none of these songs or the closer “Idle Hands” at 3:09 lack character or identity.

They are deceptively rich in their mix and able to shift in meter from one to the next while maintaining an overarching flow to the whole that gives the finale a due feeling of spaciousness after the departure of very-Cali departure of “Vera Cruz” and the standout choruses in “The Profession” and “A Cat Named Haku” earlier, and the deeper one digs into the proceedings, the more nuance one is likely to find even in songs that seem so straightforward in their initial purpose. Ultimately, questions of whether or not The Heavy Eyes will be able to gain back some of the momentum that the stretch since He Dreams of Lions may have taken away are secondary.

What matters here, as Love Like Machines expresses so plainly, are the songs themselves and the energy the band have put into constructing and recording them. They leave no question as to who they are as a band or what they want to be doing, and with a decade behind them, they stand mature in their approach but still hungry-seeming, still reaching out to the crowd in front of an imagined stage, still inviting everyone to take a step forward. It would be a hard invite to refuse, frankly, and if one thinks of Love Like Machines as a live set, then it’s pretty clear The Heavy Eyes put on a hell of a show. They’re doing their part here. It’s up to the listener now to get on board, but The Heavy Eyes have only made it as easy and as appealing as possible to do so. That’s all they can do. Well, that and tour like bastards.

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One Response to “Review & Track Premiere: The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines

  1. […] to business.” Read more and stream “Late Night,” courtesy of The Obelisk, at  THIS LOCATION. The ten-track Love Like Machines was produced by Qualls in New Mexico and Memphis and comes […]

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