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Heartless Bastards, Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, and Pugwash 

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click to enlarge Heartless Bastards
  • Heartless Bastards

Heartless Bastards

Restless Ones

Partisan Records

File next to: Jesse Sykes, The Sadies

Erika Wennerstrom always fronted a fine hard-rock band in Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards, but she wanted to be treated more seriously as a singer-songwriter. The 2012 Heartless Bastards album Arrow, produced by Jim Eno, partially realized this, but her desire is manifested to its fullest degree in this new fifth album. Restless Ones works through an easy and effortless synthesis of vocals and arrangement: the subtle hint of slide guitar, the offhand Murakami reference in "Wind-Up Bird," the chanting choral breaks in the right places. At times, the lyrics can border on trite, as the "journey is the destination" line proves in "Journey." But Wennerstrom feels comfortable in her storytelling, which has also become more polished in her Sweet Tea side project. Restless Ones reflects the Zen lesson that you can achieve the best results when you stop trying so hard. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience
  • The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience

The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience

I Like Rain: The Story of the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience

Fire Records

File next to: The Chills, The Clean, Straitjacket Fits

Sporting a playful name (eventually shortened in response to lawsuits) that had nothing to do with their sound, this New Zealand band was a prime exponent of the Flying Nun Records sound and aesthetic. With a DIY production approach and relatively unadorned arrangements, the JPS Experience crafted music that brought to mind Teenage Fanclub sitting on comfy couches, or Loaded-era Velvet Underground leaning even more in a timeless pop direction. The band's lack of commercial success belies the charms found within their music. In the same way that America's garage rock explosion of the mid '60s created hundreds of worthy tracks that never got a wide hearing, the Kiwi pop explosion of '80s New Zealand went mostly unheard outside that small country. Albeit belatedly, this best-of helps correct that injustice. — Bill Kopp

click to enlarge Pugwash
  • Pugwash

Pugwash

Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends)

Omnivore Recordings

File next to: Fountains of Wayne, XTC

This may just be the effort that pays off for guitarist-singer-songwriter Thomas Walsh and his bandmates. Dublin-based Pugwash have released six albums, including three — count 'em, three — best-ofs on three different labels. Play This Intimately is the critically acclaimed band's first album of new material to get a proper stateside release, and it's filled to the brim with Pugwash's brand of preternaturally melodic, catchy pop-rock. The group is often compared to XTC (they were on Andy Partridge's APE label for awhile, and Partridge guests on the new album) as well as ELO (Jeff Lynne makes a fleeting appearance as well), but Pugwash truly have a style of their own. "Kicking and Screaming" boasts one of Walsh's strongest melodies, and that's saying something. Play This Intimately is a winning balance of power and subtlety, of brashness and nuance. — Bill Kopp

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