Thursday, March 28, 2013 review...

by on March 27, 2013


The 15 year life span of the psychedelic, shoegaze garage rock collective Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C.) has been fraught with trials and tribulations that would spell certain doom for nearly any modern group of musicians. Despite all of this, Robert Been–bassist and duple vocalist opposite Peter Hayes–guitarist and equal-handed mastermind of the group, have both delivered consistently impressive albums that have earned them a dedicated fanbase across the globe and in doing so, have developed an entire realm of genre-bending sounds that keep us guessing with each new release. The rebel duo was out a drummer after nearly 10 years of discord with Nick Jago, who was distracted with personal difficulties. The beautiful and talented Leah Shapiro has taken up the leather in his stead and her feral drumming instincts have brought new ferocity and life to the trio.

It was during touring for their fifth full-length release, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, that irreparable tragedy had struck the band. Robert lost his father, Michael Been of the 1980s new wave Rock group The Call, to a heart attack after a Belgian music festival. He was the acting sound engineer, source of wisdom, inspiration, and more or less a parent figure to Peter who practically grew up beneath the same roof. It was a heavy blow struck to the ribcage of a band that had just picked themselves up off the dirty floor. A three-year hiatus ensued.

Luckily for the music world, there is nary an earth-shattering tragedy that can break the brother-like bond of the two core members. Their pitch rebel spirits colligated stronger than ever before and with their new drummer present to sear their agitated nerves with a mind for constructive ventilation, the trio embarked upon what would manifest as their utmost seasoned, cimmerian and at times savage efforts to date. This operose undertaking would bring to question all of their previous accomplishments, as well as their future aspirations and what, if anything, it would mean to continue on with their music at all. For three years it was a shapeless apparition that refused to take any form, but lingered at their table―ever taunting with questions that couldn’t be answered. The album was thusly titled Specter at the Feast.

The first track, “Fire Walker,” is a moody slow-burner that simmers with long-steeped agitation as if wandering cautiously through a house of mirrors. Robert’s words are wincing and clinched as if biting the insides of his cheeks until he can taste blood. This sort of bitter dramatic bravura is little-known in B.R.M.C.’s albums. They’ve played around with ambience and mantra-esque segues in their self-titled debut album B.R.M.C. and one of my favorites off Baby 81, “666 Conducer,” but it wasn’t of this ilk. It serves as a very appropriate post-script to their hiatus and a mood-setter for the album.

This leads us into their single and all-too-appropriate cover of The Call’s hit of the’80s, “Let The Day Begin” with its manic introductory drumbeat and a sharp dressed ’90s British rock makeover. Been doesn’t try for a moment to channel his father’s David Byrne-esque vocal style but instead makes the song his own. This leads us into softer, more remote territory with “Returning” and “Lullaby,” both markedly toned down for the casual B.R.M.C. fan, yet still bearing their unmistakable skull-and-crossbones branding.

The beauty of B.R.M.C. is that it’s like a conjoined twin hood of music. Some may call it imbalanced, others may think of it as bipolar musicianship―I dare say it’s satisfying all taste buds. The first portion of the album is composed and coordinated largely by Robert. By this point, many faithful are no doubt questioning the album’s direction and whether or not they can accept this shadow of the B.R.M.C. they once knew, and that is when Peter pours on the gasoline with “Hate the Taste,” and in fine, full bannered rock ‘n’ roll form! This is where barn-burners come raping and pillaging our eardrums with the grinding blues-laced barbarism of B.R.M.C.-past, and not a moment too soon.

The album continues much in the same way. They maintain a balance between hair-raising, riff and whammy infused fuzz rock―some of which may even spark hazy memories of grunge and the unkempt angst that made it so attractive, and then somber works like “Some Kind of Ghost,” which will invoke visions of robed congregations slowly wading through murky swamp waters in search of the salvation only sweet southern gospel can provide. Truly, I cannot think of a solitary band principally attached to the psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll scene with such a wide scope of sound. This is precisely why music is supposed to be an exciting frontier without cages or limits. Not at all a signed contract standardized by record labels that have the final say in what can and cannot be tolerated.

It can’t be said that this is their most seamless work to date, but it is an irrefutable shotgun blast into the air announcing that they’re intent on sticking around and I couldn’t be happier about that. The specter, which has lingered not just with the passing of Robert’s father, but within the shadow of their numerous afflictions they’ve endured for so long, seems to have been cast away at long last. I just sincerely hope we aren’t left waiting another three years to see what comes next.

B.R.M.C. plays the Wonder Ballroom SUnday, May 26. TheNewNo2 opens the show at 8:30pm (doors 7:30pm). Tickets for the 21+ show ca be purchased here.