Heels, in wrestling, are the bad guys (or gals). More specifically the guys and gals you love to hate.
Enter HEELS: a Memphis punk duo comprised of Brennan Whalen and Josh McLane on guitar and drums respectively, with both providing vocals. They’re not bad guys, but they play the part on stage, boasting aggressive punk rock sensibilities, crass lyrics and a thrash-about attitude. So of course, you can’t help but love ‘em.
For HEELS’ most recent studio album, Good People Even Do Bad Things, Whalen and McLane are joined by Clay Qualls on bass, with Toby Vest helming the piano and mixing. Their third studio album, Good People Even Do Bad Things is HEELS’ first release under Altercation Records.
Beautiful, Ugly Honesty
There’s something brutally honest about the album’s opening track, “Antics”. But when you’re trying to say something in under a minute, that is to be expected. Add in some endearing harmonies and a blunt realism sung over a simple acoustic guitar, you get this heartfelt prologue to the ensuing honest to dang goodness kick-ass punk album, Good People Even Do Bad Things.
The sophomore track, “I’ll Have a Name Someday,” wakes itself up with drums, bass and distortion. We hear co-dependencies bemoaned over a classical punk anthem held down by energetic and steady percussion. In a not-too-dissimilar vein, “A Box Of Porn In The Woods” regales a hectic love gripped tightly like a vice. A pandora’s box of passionate whimsy, abused like a weakness and relished like a treat.
This chaotic energy of Good People never gets in the way of the band being tight. “King Drunk” rocks with utter deliberation in an almost Black Keys sort of jaunt (of course with a more Memphis-y grit). Even through the dreary sway of “Bright Red”, HEELS never loses their musical nor emotional energy. Especially not in “Picking Fights,” which does an upsettingly good job of making one want to arch their back like a cat ready for a claws-out tussle. It should also serve nicely as the soundtrack to your next heated internet argument.
“No, I Don’t Think Where We’re Going Is Hell”
There’s a vulnerability trapped behind the anger and reckless self-destructive tendencies of HEELS. Anyone who has ever felt haunted with grief can sympathize with “Resealable,” where the narrator finds himself haunted by the ashes of a loved one. With a numbly detached tone backed by a forced energy, the vocals give you the sense that even through the hurt one must persevere and that one day maybe things will be okay.
That is until “Compost” comes in and guts you, ploinking at your organs like harp strings. The guitar and bass seem to drift in and out of one another in a delicate balance, locked in a dance like dirty leaves circling the drain. With an inescapable sense of need, Whalen’s vocals plead in the second person in a moment of total weakness. It almost seems out of place on the album, until you consider that all of the self-destruction has actually built up to this moment.
And then, the release. “Post Pardon” starts off light, still in the daze of its predecessor, but quickly picks up with an energy that suggests the song itself knows that when it stops, this whole thing is over. It fights for every last inch it can pull from you, the cathartic end this journey needed as the album goes down swinging in a final fit of passion.
After basically speed running the five stages of grief mixed with panicked libido, you’re freed. Good People… boast’s some of the duo’s finest singing yet with solid harmonies, balanced in a perfect subtlety. The piano’s sparing use is carefully calculated, always when needed and never in a way that subtracted. The writing is either raw or clever throughout, and at times it’s both. So, overall, is the album worth your time to listen to?
To be brutally honest: f*** yes.
* * *
Good People Even Do Bad Things is available for physical purchase through CDBaby and Amazon. You can stream it on Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify along with the rest of the HEELS discography. All of HEELS’ work except for Good People… can also be found on Bandcamp.
Required Listening: King Drunk, A Box of Porn In The Woods, Compost