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It’s not a new thing—quintessentially American types of music migrate to England and come back sexier and more palatable. Co-ed quintet The Heavy, from the suburbs of Bath, takes a page from this book on their new album “Great Vengeance and Furious Fire,” blending their sexy British sound with one steeped in the rich American heirlooms of blues and funk.
With a mixture of gospel-infused vocals, R&B beats, and garage rock sounds, they manage to simultaneously call Sonic Youth and Prince to mind, swaying between being more heavily influenced by one or the other throughout the album. Although the result is not always pure beauty (the low-fi, grating instrumental opening of the track “In the Morning” is a bit headache-inducing), one can’t resist jumping up and dancing. The melodies are not particularly complex, but drummer Chris Ellul and bassist Spencer Page have a solid feel for the blues beat.
The Heavy draws liberally from tradition, and they have the musical chops, soul, and energy to pull it off. They poke fun at their own contemporary music scene with tracks like “Colleen,” about a girl who “wants everything / She want the Gucci and the Louis things / …She won’t give it up until you give her just about enough / Now those girls are dangerous / It’s enough to make you love a bro.” Here, as elsewhere, a tongue-in-cheek attitude prevails that’s refreshing and funny.
They dip into Streets-style flirtatious wordplay with the track “Girl,” and it suits the bluesy, British-accented, simultaneously raspy and rich voice of vocalist Kelvin Swaby surprisingly well, as he claims, “Girl / You look like you could have some fun / Better yet you look like you could have some fun,” chuckling intermittently.
Their self-aware sense of humor makes their bluesy, heartbroken songs even more moving, as in the acoustic track “Doing Fine,” when Swaby begs an ex-lover, “Please don’t tell me you love me / Leave me / Don’t fuck with my mind / Try to understand like you’re a good friend of mine / ’Cause I’m doing fine.” In a contemporary music scene filled with girls like “Colleen,” it’s nice to hear a band bringing heartbreak and the blues to a new generation.
Another stand-out track is “Who Needs the Sunshine,” where Swaby belts his soulful voice to its full effect above two alternated piano intervals, intermittent guitar chords, and jazzy drum beats. He sings the ostensibly warm and fuzzy lyrics, “Who needs the sunshine when you’re here?” then darkens the mood by talking about “whatever fetish I decide to cast you in.”
The Heavy sound most musical on their more acoustic tracks, like “Set Me Free,” with its groovy beats and yearning demands for liberation. The rich backup vocals provided by keyboardist Hannah Collins make one wish her voice played a larger role on the album. Swaby seems to be singing directly to the listener when he asks, “Remember how we were kids when we were high on haze? We never knew about the way things were.” With any luck, these Brits can help some American kids appreciate their own musical roots a bit better, so they can know “about the way things were.”
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