Douglas Martin is more than the sum of his influences.
The Hecks inhabit a space that at times defies categorization and at others places them squarely in a well-defined lineage of bands. The Chicago trio’s shimmering-but-jagged guitar sound is instantly reminiscent of the still-dearly-departed Women; their twitchy post-punk rhythms evoke the same impression as the Desperate Bicycles; and their drone experiments emblematic of a number of drone experimentalists pulsating through the underground over the past few years. Still, when you put together the quotient of these not-altogether-dissimilar sounds, it turns out to be something different than expected. The Hecks sound a little fresher, a little more foreign than your average rote genre experiment with loud guitars and busted tape machines.
“The Thaw” was exactly what I heard when I mentioned Women and Desperate Bicycles. The Hecks are kind of a midway point between those two bands on this song, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For Women’s foray into avant-garage, they were once a band that had the same nervous energy. Also, there is a shimmering guitar lightly tracing the borders as the lead ping-pongs in the foreground, and a sardonic sneer in the near distance. Whether reference or reverence, the Hecks can and do at times sound like something you’ve heard before.
But there are times where they’re very close to one of those reference points that is just a little out of reach from your mind, and then you realize there is a personality all their own in this music. “Airport Run,” the album’s closer is such a weird, romantic song, and they sound just a little left-to-center than most any bands you would say play in this style, and it’s a little peculiar that a band like this—especially after the album that preceded it—could make such a perfect little pop tune. And then they even subvert that, by going with the subdued chime of the outro instead of a blowout monster chorus to ride out.
Doing what someone expects you to do, having a formula, is the least interesting thing about making music. On their more inspired tracks, the band make some surprising turns. “Trust and Order” has a drumbeat that sounds perfect for a Supremes song, and the Hecks write a jangles-with-jagged-edges garage-rock burner that doesn’t feature vocals until the song’s almost halfway over, and enjoy a very short stay once they’re there. “Favor” is not heavy enough to be considered heavy, but still sounds like someone stomping out a flame.
“Spooked // Light” starts as a series of dissonant chimes that slowly drift farther into space. It’s a song that isn’t just an achievement of some psychedelic vibe, but a study in textures; a high drone, guitars sounding like they’re being played with ripcords. The Hecks are a band that have already mastered the intricacies of their musicality, and once they have enough songs to catch up, they will be a trio to remember.