Release Date: Aug 17, 2010
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Having waited 10 years to see [a]The National[/a] become ‘an overnight success’, let us hope for [a]Chief[/a]’s sake that the time-lag on big-hearted US indie is getting shorter. Like their forebears, these LA beardies get the plaudits for taking raw, honest emotions and richly infusing them into every moment of their music. Sounding like a loved-up [a]Richard Ashcroft[/a] with extra harmonies, ‘[b]Modern Rituals[/b]’ proves a rare life-affirming piece of work, as the likes of ‘[b]Wait For You[/b]’, ‘[b]Breaking Walls[/b]’ and ‘[b]Stealing[/b]’ swoon to the depths of the human condition, yet always return hopeful and heart-swelling.
All together now Los Angeles four-piece Chief borrows the soaring, idyllic four-part harmonies beloved of West Coast musicians since the time of the Beach Boys (and dusted off in the Aughts with Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, among others). The members of Chief have great pipes and each song on their debut LP Modern Rituals is centered on a soaring explosion of vocal euphony that could melt the heart of even the most jaded music fan. It’s the thing that makes their personalities (and their music) interesting—when they aren’t united, the musicianship is standard guitar/drums/bass twang, and the lyrics are the usual lovelorn ponderings of modern-day folk.
Santa Monica-based indie rock outfit Chief's low-key debut oozes California sunset melancholy. The quartet’s languid, guitar-driven highway pop is built upon a foundation of blue-collar radio favorites like Neil Young and the Band, as well as the early-'90s alt-rock of Toad the Wet Sprocket and Red House Painters, and the resulting Modern Rituals feels a little stuck in the middle. Earnest, melodic, and slow to unfold, there’s not a bad song on here, but surprises are few and far between.
The guys in Chief grew up in California, but the band actually formed while three of them were attending NYU. That bicoastalism reveals itself neatly in the band's music. Modern Rituals, the group's full-length debut, blends NY backbeats and jaded vocals with woolly West Coast harmonies and mellow vibes, and it works in the sense that Chief don't sound explicitly beholden to any single sound or style.
Slackers can usually find a comfortable place in the world of music – if there’s any place perfect for those who like to sleep all day, grow their hair long and indulge in a bit of herbal experimentation, it’s the music business. However, you still need an occasional burst of productivity to, you know, make a record or whatever. You get the impression that Chief got round to recording their debut album Modern Rituals during one such moment of clarity, such is the languid style in which they hold themselves.
From the opening, slightly hypnotic swirl of “The Minute I Saw It”, the opening track from Modern Rituals, Chief’s first full length release, it becomes fairly easy to become seduced by the band’s classic rock-leaning groove. However, with no shortage of folkish, melodically heavy indie bands making the rounds these days, it also becomes just as easy to write the band off as another dust collecting four-piece. Modern Rituals isn’t exactly a complex listen, but it does beg the question: is there anything of substance to these guys?Their story isn’t all that dramatic in scope either.
Arrangements are dense and intricate, and Chief make an accomplished, purposeful noise. Matthew Horton 2010 Rock propositions don't come much more solid and reliable than Chief, least of all on Domino Records, currently home to quirkier offerings from Lightspeed Champion, Animal Collective and Wild Beasts. But this California-bred, New York University-convened four-piece plant a flag in the middle ground for the label, filling their debut with hummable, tastefully produced folk-rock, shot through with confidence without ever chancing unnecessary risks.