the heavy: perfect retro-cool with “the glorious dead” #soundcheck

September 26, 2012

The past few years have seen an increasing percentage of the music scene mining the vaults of Stax records circa 1968 in search of lost singles for inspiration. And why shouldn’t they? There’s some great shit in there. But retro savants The Heavy have picked a different corner of the Stax catalog for their muse; that sublime period around ’71 when some of soul’s best songwriters made the switch from songwriter to film composer. Outfitting their soul+indie formula with lush strings and ominous timpani, The Glorious Dead is the same moment of growth for The Heavy.

The record plays like the score to a film that never was, and I don’t doubt that most of these songs will end up anchoring soon-to-be-iconic scenes in films within the year. (Though if Newt Gingrich’s attempt to appropriate The Heavy’s breakout hit “How You Like Me Now” is any indication, they’ll also probably be featured in at least a handful of unintentionally bad horror-comedies – the worst kind of bad horror-comedy). The whole thing combines their swamp-rock with immaculate arrangements that evoke sci-fi B-movies and blaxploitation—often at the same time. Opening with a narration from The She Beast before building into a New Orleans funeral, “Can’t Play Dead” brilliantly sets up the record’s marriage of the joyous and the macabre.

Surprisingly, for a record that trades in genre references, the album is least successful when The Heavy fully indulge their genre fetish. Tracks like “Blood Dirt Love Stop,” which could easily be mistaken for a lost Stax single, become too preoccupied with hitting all the right notes in their homage. But if wading through a few genre exercises means getting genuine instant classics like “What Makes A Good Man?” “Curse Me Good” and “Be Mine,” then it’s totally worth it. For all of it’s nostalgic charm, this is by and large a record that sounds like nothing else in the world.

– Words by Nathan Leigh