Sonically and stylistically, there’s nothing on Erika Wennerstrom’s solo debut that Heartless Bastards, the Austin-based rock group she’s led through fifteen years and five albums, hasn’t covered. On Sweet Unknown (Partisan Records, March 23), her lush but gravelly voice—the band’s calling card—still swings nimbly from solemn whisper to piercing siren across tunes that straddle the fence between Americana and psychedelia.
So Sweet Unknown, then, exists to document a personal transformation, not a musical one; four of the set’s nine tracks overtly reference change (“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life this way / I needed a change,” goes one couplet in “Good to Be Alone”). Wennerstrom’s third-eye-opening ayahuasca experience in the Amazon three years ago, which inspired much of the album, was clearly a profound reckoning: for every self-doubting could’ve/should’ve, there are matching cycles of affirmation and catharsis built around melodies alternately muscular and mournful. By “Gravity,” the record’s gorgeous seven-minute finale, she croons, “I’m starting to feel like my good days are ahead of me,” an assertion Sweet Unknown’s already begun to make good on.