Thursday, March 21, 2013 review...

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Specter at the Feast
Abstract Dragon / Vagrant Records
The sixth album by San Francisco indie rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club can almost be divided neatly into two records. Clocking in at nearly an hour, ‘Specter at the Feast’ actually would make a pretty good LP and a really great EP. Most of the album features the band’s usual blend of guitar-powered garage and psych-rock. But the more interesting songs stretch past the six-minute mark and get all ruminative about death and other big issues.

No surprise, since frontman Robert Been’s father – former leader of ‘80s cult heroes the Call and BRMC auxiliary member Michael Been – passed away a couple of years ago while touring with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. His death looms over ‘Specter at the Feast’’s best songs like a slightly menacing but ultimately reassuring ghost. They even cover the Call’s biggest hit, ‘Let the Day Begin,’ with appropriate reverence.

But the album’s heaviest cuts add striking new layers to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s music. The opening ‘Fire Walker’ slowly builds over six minutes of brooding bass and rolling drums, and ‘Sell It’ balances scorching guitar solos and frayed vocals over seven minutes of bluesy neo-psychedelic haze. For the first time since their debut album a dozen years ago saddled them with tons of pre-blogosphere buzz, the group sounds personally connected to the songs.

That’s especially true on ‘Specter at the Feast’’s centerpieces, the mournful ‘Returning’ and ‘Lullaby,’ and the eight-minute closer ‘Lose Yourself.’ Wrapping themselves in sheets of lovely guitar noise and lyrics that reflect on the past and their relationship to the future, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club reach the salvation they’re looking for throughout the album. When the final notes of ‘Lose Yourself’ fade into the distance, a sort of closure has been reached with the elder Been’s death.

Still, those decisive moments are scattered among some forgettable songs. Like 2010’s ‘Beat the Devil’s Tattoo,’ ‘Specter at the Feast’ too often settles on decade-old expectations and proceeds to unravel like a mediocre Jesus and Mary Chain album (though ‘Sometimes the Light’ would make a killer down-tuned JAMC tune). It’s a gorgeous racket at times, no doubt about it, but too little of it leads to anything all that notable. The record’s emotionally liberating half, however, is the band’s best work since the promising debut.