5 out of 5
Label: Ernest Jenning Record Co
Produced by: Shane Stoneback
Back when I was really smart, I picked up a Heston Rifle CD as part of a used bin shopping spree, based on whatever criteria I was using at the time, and then, in all of my “I own a Don Caballero CD” instrumental band wisdom, deemed them a knock-off and decided not to keep it.
Some two million years later, I stumbled across the same CD in yet another used bin spree, and the world turns and my tastes mature (right?), and I decide to give it another go. Apparently, “really smart” me was actually pretty dumb.
In the realm of instrumental, I own a lot more than Don Cab now, ranging from the tempered and hush to the extreme and bracing. I do have a preference for groups erring toward the rock side of things, and so do, seemingly, a lot of dang people, since you can pretty much just stumble around blindly hitting links to top 40 tracks and somehow six degrees your way to some moody instrumental act who like Mogwai and Pelican. Amidst all that slow building musical tension, it’s still been hard to find groups that nail a particular balance, something that’s maybe partway between glacially paced stuff and metal freakouts that doesn’t make me wait 15 minutes to get to the goods, and maybe also doesn’t need to absolutely shred to prove a point. Do I like all of those elements? Uh, yeah, but, again: middleground. It can be nice to just put an album on and it’s ready to do its thing.
This might’ve been why I dispatched with Heston Rifle on that first outing, for, perhaps, being too accessible. Allowing that that’s a stupid indie asshole reason for criticism, if we want to follow some thread that suggests that accessible = simple, this is similarly disproven by the group’s frequent time changes, and complex arrangements, and the general unpredictability of their songs.
By lazy association, the strings give Heston a Dirty Three vibe, at their most raucous, but the guitar and bass interplay are like a more active version of early Tortoise – very dense and melodic – with the kind of balance of dourness and playfulness Russian Circles might display. These are just hodgepodge references, though, indicative of how HR cut a line down some exacting middle of everything, giving you all of the goods with literally zero filler, and somehow still all of the great build and release tension desired of instrumental acts.
The production from Shane Stoneback is absolutely key: distortion and percussion are edgy as hell, but the bass and strings and wonderfully warm and full; again – middleground. And the group brings the chops to match, enough looseness to give the set a live feel, but with the precision to indicate chops.
You’re likely smarter than me, then and now, so you won’t need warnings to give the disc a full shot: opener Devices to Transcend Dreaming gives you all the mellow and rocking out you’d need in due amounts, then tosses in some prog elements towards the end just to cover their bases. Six more tracks of that and maybe it’s all those other bands that should’ve been playing catch up to Heston instead of, as past me figured, the other way around.