Album review: The Hearts of Darkness - Shelf Life

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)

Editor's note and correction: Shelf Life is the second album release from The Hearts of Darkness. The band's first album, a self-titled LP, was released in 2010 and available at Bandcamp.

"Welcome to the Middle of the Map!
Kansas City, to be exact!
I’m Les Izmore, and I’ve brought some friends along!
They go by …

THE HEARTS OF DARKNESS!"

The opening cadence of the very first song, the title track to The Hearts of Darkness’ new album Shelf Life, is not an introduction.  It is not a gentle request for your attention.  What it is … (deep breath) … is one of Kansas City’s most bombastic frontmen throwing down the gauntlet and defying you to turn your attention away from the forty-five-minute barrage of music and lyrics that comprise the first full-length effort of a band whose reputation as a live act without peer has been growing since its inception in 2008. Their progression has followed the standard blueprint of sought-after success: play gigs, become known for their live shows, record an EP, play more gigs, get asked to play high-profile slots in such big-ticket events as Farm Aid and Kanrocksas, release a bonafide album. Two years in the making, Shelf Life brings together the beat of West Africa, the spirit of New Orleans, the funk of James Brown, the rhythm of Fela Kuti, and the soul of Count Basie.  There’s also no shortage of KC pride here; HoD makes it very clear that they are raising the hometown flag high throughout the record.

Not bad for a group that bandleader Bob Asher describes as a "side project" when they came together nearly 5 years ago.  He says that most of the musicians (anywhere between 12 and 19 on a given night) had little to no experience playing in a band, so the Hearts of Darkness sound was carefully cultivated along the way.  The result is a collective that is amazingly tight in spite of its sometimes sprawling stage presence – and a presence they are, with Izmore and a formidable trio of dynamic, compelling ladies providing the lyrics to music that demands movement from the listener. While the rhythm is almost always on full-speed-ahead mode, the messages aren’t always simply about having fun and dancing the night away, as witnessed by such tracks as "Standing on the Corner" and "Got to Hustle."  Chad Meise at The Cooler Studio does yeoman work in capturing the energy of a live performance, but vinyl and plastic can only do so much, so attending HoD’s CD release party (emphasis on "party," as The Good Foot will be laying down the soul groove sounds as well) is highly recommended.

What’s next for The Hearts of Darkness?  According to Asher, some well-deserved down time, as the band will be cutting back on performances for the rest of the year and gearing up for 2013, with new songs at the ready. The target to kick back into full swing is around Mardi Gras time – and what better event for such an unstoppable musical force to flex its muscles? Shelf Life will either be the start of a new sonic addiction or the latest dose of an already-ingrained habit.  As Les and the ladies ask in "Numeration," how far will they go before they stop?

Here’s hoping we don’t find out where the “stop” is for a long, long time.

The Hearts of Darkness will be releasing Shelf Life at a special release party this Saturday, August 25 at Knuckleheads Saloon at 8:00 pm. They'll be accompanied by special guests The Good Foot.

--Michael Byars

Michael is the host of The Mailbox, a weekly podcast that offers new music, concert info and news about the Kansas City area and more. In his spare time you might find him looking for some good live music, particularly at a certain bar that has lots of records. 

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