Growing up is a bitch; it is just that simple. It’s a heartbreaking mix of bullies, break-ups, and braces. Finding your voice in that mess of hormones is a daunting task that irks many of us through our adult life. Yet somehow in the thick of it all, Baltimore duo and avid shoplifters Metal Hearts have musically found a way to reassemble and redefine those woes into a record that is as refined as it is raw.
Eighteen-year-old Anar Badalov and Nineteen-year-old Flora Wolpert-Checknoff began making music together in January 2004. Says Wolpert-Checknoff, "We met through my sexy Greek best friend. Anar was dating her that month, and I had dated her in Kindergarden.” So the time spent leading up to the band’s self-released debut Escapists was as much about contest as it was creation. However, within the context of competition came eventual artistic understanding—so much so that the enemies-turned-collaborators continued to write songs via email during their first year of campus life. Badalov, who moved to Baltimore with his family from Azerbaijan during the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, sent sound files and correspondence to Wolpert-Checknoff, who’s lived in Baltimore since she was 2.
Eventually, each decided that college wasn’t the right place at the right time, and they returned to see what they could come up with together. Soon enough the former High School adversaries turned collaborators were back in Baltimore, living together, and plotting world domination for their proxy-band. Luckily the tension that had fueled their initial meeting continued to trickle onto the basement four-track. Adds Badalov, “The whole experience was fun…until we started going crazy we'd start laughing hysterically, then become upset and frustrated, back and forth." Escapists came out just as manically as the sessions that produced it. The follow-up sessions, which they immediately started recording afterwards, quickly grabbed the attention of Pacific Northwest mini-mogul David Dickenson. Before the band could blink they were opening for Pedro The Lion in front of a packed hometown crowd and had themselves a record deal.
On their Suicide Squeeze debut, Socialize, the duo (along with drummer/recording engineer Sam Leiber) drop a mope-addled dose of bedroom rock. On which Anar's baritone lends a low foundation to Flora's airy registers. Sonically meshing together the angular bites of Long Drive-era Modest Mouse, the expansive bedroom drone of Arab Strap, and the subtle whispers of Cat Power. All through blended waves of layered finger picking, sparse drum loops, stringed accompaniments and distinctive vocal melodies that weave in-and-out from the duo’s respective extremes. Wolpert-Checknoff pipes up, "We are already working on our next record, and words can't describe how excited we are about getting it out to people. It's far more expressive and evolved than Socialize is, although we do feel Socialize is a good start. We hope listeners think so, too" Badalov adds with a smirk, "yeah, this album sucks, but our next one's gonna rule!"
Ahh...to be young again!
Perhaps it is just their young age, or the fact that they seem to have a bi-polar friendship that threatens to fall apart and dissolve the band at any moment, but something creates a drive in the Metal Hearts to be in control of everything and to have all attention focused on them. And for better or worse, they appear to be satisfying their desires.
Formed in 2004 as a bedroom project between teenagers Anar Badalov and Flora Wolpert-Checknoff, Metal Hearts quickly gained the attention of celebrated indie label Suicide Squeeze, and they excitedly inked a deal. "There really aren't words to describe how great Suicide Squeeze is," the band gushed. "Their enthusiasm about the record was unbelievable, and they still haven't let it wear off. They're also the hardest working label in the world, by far."
It is a bit tricky to pinpoint the aesthetic origins of Socialize, but perhaps we could trace it to early Modest Mouse, or Arab Strap when they hit their prime, and sometimes you even taste the bedroom accessibility that has become indie rock's stigma (or crowning achievement, depending on your point of view). The title track is a smooth introduction to the world of broken hearts and emotional ramblings, perhaps even cliched in the sparseness of it all. And "Foothills" is a monotonous piece of work that will have you rocking back and forth while waiting for the next sterile needle.
Food probably had something to do with the structure of the entire album. "We went to eat at McDonald’s at the end, which was a bad decision. Our cholesterol is off the charts, but now we eat Luna bars." So maybe it was indigestion that helped them record some of the best tracks, including "Gentleman's Spell" and "Mountain Song," both plunging the listener into icy water and then lifting them up to sonic peaks, perhaps even dreamy bliss while one spends their nights staring at the ceiling.
Redemption comes through "Ocean Song," a fitting title with an enchanting flow, perhaps not entirely original, but somehow it acts like a breath of fresh air even if the world it revolves in is a mess of post-highschool heartbreak and independent loser-dom—if every track conveyed this sense of pop sensibility and fearful, wide-eyed, eagerness then Socialize could have been a great springboard debut.
The band has already said that they are ready to move on ("The album feels like it's been out for five years now."), but are they actually prepared to progress? Either way, this album is a wonderful piece of bedroom pop that could easily fit next to Minus the Bear or Modest Mouse, unfortunately it all crumbles away when you turn off the stereo and forget what brought you to enjoy such mellow heartburn.
First Glimpse Mag
It’s a tad ironic that the first track on this album is titled "Socialize," considering that’s the last thing we felt like doing after giving it a listen. Not that listening to this album will make you lock the doors and pull the shades, but keep a pillow handy; the simple, soothing melodies and repetitive percussion and harmonies will make your eyelids heavy. If you aren’t lulled by the instrumentation you’ll be moved by the lyrics to tracks such as "Midnight’s Sun." Socialize is the band’s first widely available album, but the creativity and musical experimentation implemented in it suggest the Metal Hearts have found an avenue to travel in music for some time to come.
Persona Non Grata
Sozialisieren. Sich anpassen. Ein Problem, dem sich jeder Denkende stellt, wenn er im Alter von Anar Badalov und Flora Wolpert-Checknoff ist. Und auch später. Fügst du dich ein oder schließt du dich aus? Was wird aus deinem Leben? Mach erst mal Musik. So wie die beiden, die noch nicht mal zwanzig sind und trotzdem schon aus den Vollen ihres musikalischen Potentials schöpfen. Da ist diese unaufdringliche Instrumentalisierung, angefangen bei der gewöhnlichen Gitarre über eine zarte Geige bis hin zu dezentem Programming. Und da ist das beinahe plaudernde Duett der zwei Protagonisten, das man, ja, durchaus, als „bedroom rock“ bezeichnen könnte. Und wenn man dazu noch bedenkt, dass die Band mit dem komischen Namen von sich selbst sagt, dieses Debüt war okay, aber der Nachfolger wird noch viel besser, dann wird mir persönlich etwas bange. Reminiszenzen verschiedenster Couleur könnte man da aufzählen, angefangen bei Modest Mouse über Stars bis zu Azure Ray, aber es würde zu nichts führen. Was bringt schon Namedropping, wenn diese Band trotz aller Parallelen für sich selbst spricht? Sehr schön, weitermachen.
Three Imaginary Girls
Despite such youthful lyrics such as, "He's making shit up now/trying to be your friend," Metal Hearts isn't made of high school kids. In fact, Anar Badalov and Flora Wolpert-Checknoff are well on their way towards adulthood at the ripe ages of eighteen and nineteen years old, respectively. That these two Eastern European descendants have known each other literally since age two is nearly as interesting as how they continued to write songs via email while attending different colleges, ultimately trading in their educations to focus more on their lurid bedroom rock.
And seductively deceptive they are. Like two children who are perfectly sweet and innocent angels in their parent's eyes, they are hiding skeletons in their closets and pornography under their mattresses. Keep a watchful eye on them as they attempt to lull you into a calm sleep all the while whispering in your ears such juicy lyrics as, "You can watch me fester in masturbatory quiet/I swallow a bottle of wine so I can get by it."
Given the taboo innuendos and the synth-drum/lazy guitar-laced songs, you can see why I might be tempted to charge Metal Hearts of sounding like a teenaged Arab Strap. Don't get me wrong, I think it's pretty damn sexy. Apparently, so did Seattle-based music mogul David Dickenson when he came across some of their earlier basement demos and offered this Baltimore duo a recording contract on Suicide Squeeze Records along with an opening gig for Pedro the Lion, proving that the "American dream" is still hobbling along.
In fact, about the only thing I don't love about Metal Hearts is their chosen band name. I mean, c'mon... Metal Hearts?! I don't give a damn if it was named after a Cat Power song from Moon Pix. It just seems that they could have selected a name a little more descriptive of their shtick, perhaps one of those trendy full-sentence names like "I Arise at Dawn With Fire In My Loins."
Just a suggestion.