Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
With 2010's superb Beat the Devil's Tattoo, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club found a balance between their muscular, fuzzed-out noise rock and rootsy if no less punk-inspired take on American blues and country. The trio, now featuring singer/bassist Robert Levon Been, singer/guitarist Peter Hayes, and drummer Leah Shapiro (who joined for Devil's Tattoo), seemed to have matured into a fully realized version of its younger self. BRMC's seventh studio album, 2013's Specter at the Feast, takes this musical maturation even further, as the band delves into a moody, sustained, and long-form dream pop aesthetic.
On their 2001 debut, B. R. M.
The bleary San Francisco fuzz-rockers originally considered making their sixth studio album a double, but evidently had the wisdom to realise that two discs' worth of uncharacteristic downtempo melancholia would numb the listener. The 12 tracks that made the grade comprise one of BMRC's better releases. They were written after the sudden death of their sound engineer, Michael Been – father of bassist Robert Been – and are heavy with loss.
Following the death of singer Robert Levon Been’s father, ex-Call singer Michael Been, in 2010, BRMC was in flux. Initially unsure if they’d carry on after losing not only a dad but also the man who’d been the band’s soundman for years, they managed to cope with the tragedy the only way they could. From covering the elder Been’s “Let the Day Begin” to the ferocious energy of “Teenage Disease” and “Rival,” Specter at the Feast features some of BRMC’s best since 2005’s Howl.
What springs to mind when you think of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? I know I picture a modest, leather-clad, shades-donning stable that hold their trademark eerie, foreboding grooves in much higher regard than the dazzling spotlight that many bands ultimately aspire to fill. To intensify this image, I find myself hearing an unmistakable, advancing procession of bass-central memoirs, urged home and laced with more blues than a Dulux wall chart. With the release of Specter at the Feast, the Californian’s 7th full length LP, these preconceptions of the band's sound are there in all their grandeur, but with a provocative, sophisticated subtlety added to their established blueprint.
The days when Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would vie for front page headline space with The Strokes and Oasis are long gone. Which is arguably for the better, as despite being lumped in with the aforementioned and many more bands of the day, BRMC always stuck out like sore thumbs at an international manicure convention. Moodier, and with a tendency towards creating more aggressive rather than commercially enticing music, it was little surprise when third long player, 2005's acoustic Howl, saw them take a step in the opposite direction to their peers, many of whom had already burned out by this point.
Six albums and 12 years in, BRMC could easily have descended fully into indoor-shades and leather-jacket-clad self parody. Instead, this new record is far lusher and braver than anyone had any right to expect. The tragic impetus for these new songs came from the death of bassist Robert Levon Been’s father Michael, an occasional BRMC guitarist they called the band’s ‘fourth member’.
With Howl, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's best album, eight years behind them now, the Los Angeles trio seems content churning out respectable moody-but-energized rock records that very rarely break the mold. But these albums are the result of a specific and practically trademarked formula that works well for a band with some serious longevity. BRMC's seventh studio album, Specter At the Feast, is yet another durable record.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s career hasn’t exactly been distinguished, but it has been long, and at some point you simply can’t argue with longevity. Routinely dismissed as derivative mope rockers subsisting on the least interesting scraps of warmed-over Ride, Stones, and Brian Jonestown Massacre records, BRMC make music as predictable as their look: black shirt, black leather jacket, black shades, pouty lips, downturned heads. What started out as a pose is now baked in; BRMC may lack the pedigree of a legacy rock band, but they certainly have the mileage.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have always been a band who have stuck to a clearly defined aesthetic. Since their emergence in 2001 with their self-titled debut, their albums have intermittently alternated between adrenalized punk rock and a more spiritually tinged kind of blues rock melancholy best exemplified on their career highlight, 2005’s Howl. The band’s visual image as black clad rock ‘n’ roll evangelists has stayed true throughout their long career.
Specter At the Feast could have been a complete downer, and part of me wishes it was. For it’s the weepers here that resonate. This makes total sense, given Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s 2010 loss of Michael Been, the former frontman of The Call who also produced, mentored, and sound engineered the band. More importantly, he was Robert Levon Been’s father.
The death of BRMC bassist Robert Been's father – the Call's frontman/BRMC soundman Michael Been – cast a pall over the trio's vision, and on Specter the Bay Areans clearly struggle. Melancholy pervades the dreamy "Fire Walker" and "Returning," while creeping darkness duels with a dramatic chorus on "Funny Games." That's when raging against the dying light kicks "Rival," "Sell It," and the scabrous "Teenage Disease" into overdrive, and the elegiac "Lose Yourself" and cover of the Call's "Let the Day Begin" keep the hope flag waving. (Fri., 11:30pm, Reverberation stage) .
It’s been a circuitous and strange musical evolution for the San Francisco trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. After storming onto the music scene with the gritty, effects-heavy guitars that permeated their tempestuous 2001 debut, B.R.M.C., as well as their criminally underrated ’03 follow-up, Take Them On, On Your Own, Peter Hayes and Robert Been ditched their original drummer, Nick Jago, and took a sonic left-turn with the acoustic folk rock of Howl, a move which left longtime fans wondering what indeed happened to their rock ‘n’ roll. Jago rejoined the band briefly in 2007 for the uninspired and overblown Baby 81 before being quickly shown the door once again, replaced by the Raveonettes’ touring drummer, Leah Shapiro.
Hmm. ‘Specter At The Feast’? We’re picturing a London-based indie band eating an ice cream. We’re not picturing eerie figures doing meaningful things at events rich with symbolism. Which was presumably the aim. Unless BRMC are holding an unexpected torch for Fred Macpherson.It wouldn’t ….