Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
For 15 years, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has carried the torch for true rock and roll. The latest edition of the firebrand rock troupe, sees them at their most dynamic. Their sixth studio album, Specter at the Feast, ventures into diverse sonic territory, delivering their most ambitious offering yet. It's an album of impossible dichotomies; opposing sounds amalgamate into a seamless, entirely coherent package, that rumbles with driving rhythms, and soars with skyward-arcing guitar howls. Robert Been delivers growling bass grooves on "Hate the Taste," and Peter Hayes' guitar wails on what may be their most hard-rocking song, "Rival." Counterbalancing these frenetic outbursts are moments of star-gazing ambient textures, like the crystalline harmonics introducing the slinking album opener, "Fire Walker," and the organ drones of "Returning." There are moments of down-home blues paired alongside flailing punk bombasticism; gnarled dark rock shores upon uplifting, and optimistic anthems. Taking cues from all points of the band's many years on the road, this record is the band's most well-realized album to date. "We thought about making it a double album," Been says of the many songs that were written for the record.
To write the album, the Los Angeles band traveled north to the sleepy Northern California town of Santa Cruz, where they holed up in an old Post Office-turned-recording studio. It was here, just a few blocks from where Been grew up, that they began to write.
"Peter would spend all day and night in that studio," Been recalls, "[Drummer] Leah [Shapiro] and I would go and check on him every few days, and he'd show us these incredible textures and guitar lines that he built."
"I've never seen the sunrise so many times," Hayes laughs, "I'd work all night on these songs, trying to get them right."
Prior to heading north to Santa Cruz, Dave Grohl invited them to his Studio 606, home to the storied Neve 8028 console soundboard from the legendary Sound City -- the subject of his recent documentary -- and on which Nirvana created Nevermind and BMRC recorded their debut album in 2001. "It was a nice sense return," Been says, "to come back to the place where it all began for us."
For two years, the band worked on creating the album, a process that they all agree, was one of the most difficult of their career. Like the Macbeth quote that became the album's title, there was a painful shadow that had been cast upon the band.
During the band's 2010 tour, Robert's father Michael Been -- known for fronting 1980's alt-rock group, The Call -- died while backstage. He was BRMC’s Sound Engineer, and as Hayes says, "he was like another member of the band." They finished the tour but afterward, the trauma began to set in.
"Music began as the best way to escape what was out there, all the shit in the world that feels false, everything you want to say against it," Been says, "but when a loss like this is so close to music, it turns everything upside down. Music becomes the one place where you can’t escape. It’s like waking up in a completely different world. How do I get my bearings in this world?"
Slowly, the band began to rebuild. They fought grief and the pain of Michael's death by confronting it directly, with no fear.
"The only thing that felt good was just getting together, plugging in, and turning up loud as shit," Been says. "It was kind of this therapeutic process, playing really loud, and just feeling this energy; letting that be a release. It really helped us pull out of that darkest place that we were in."
As their momentum regained, their synergy reconnected them to one another. Then one session began the process that unlocked their creative energy again. "I began playing this drumbeat that I had been working on," Shapiro says, "the guys started playing, and suddenly we realized that we were playing the Call's 'Let the Day Begin.'"
The unintentional homage to The Call turned into their own high-powered take on the song they performed with Michael around the world. The energy was explosive and real; it became the first song they recorded at Grohl's studio, as a tribute to Michael's place in the band. For Robert, of course, the meaning transcended music. "This song was one of my earliest memories of my father's music," he says.
Grief transformed to joy. On this album, where they dug deeper than ever before, mining these difficult emotional landscapes, the result is intense, but rapturous. From personal and intimate hymns like the "Sometimes the Light" to the buzz-saw guitars of "Teenage Disease," Been says "it was these two extremes that we were drifting back and forth between, you feel both when you are going through what we went trough."
Above all, Specter at the Feast is honest; it tells the story of a journey to Hell and back, revealing that in darkness, there can be light. Wounds will eventually heal, and maybe, music can save your life. As they sing on ‘Returning,’ “I will follow you till we all return, till we know our souls' survived."
Restavrant (Rest^vRant) is junkyard high art. A catapult that soaks in a wealth of contrasting influences and Pollacks back the mash obscuring any predictable template of genre. Electrocana, roots, punk, country and slide blues would seem to be rough acts to merger but through the mad science of front man Troy Murrah the formula hits the nail.
Murrah, a thirty something Los Angeles based Victoria, Texas native possesses a restless wiring that lends dimensional creativity to his projects incorporating visual art and a compelling asthetic in live shows as well as promotional materials. Troy got a late start musically but hit the ground running. During a moderate “social hiatus” he shacked up with a Silvertone and cut his teeth on the works of Mississippi Fred Mcdowell. He began as a solo one man band act until joining forces with J State who expanded the dynamic and provided percussion, Korg and back up vocals on the 2008 Narnack records realease ‘Returns to the Tomb of Guiliano Medidici’ and the 2011 album ‘ Yeah I Carve Cheetahs’ under Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. In the current incarnation, Murrah is backed by a rotating cast of talent that captains the elaborate salvage lot trash kit that serves as the driving force of the bands overall sound.
Rest^vrant’s hybrid of big belt buckle break loops, slide, banjo, vox and harp have been well received over the course of two full length releases and an extensive west coast and european tour. The band is currently in studio recording what will be their third release and a U.S tour with veteran “dirty ol’ one man band” Scott H. Biram has been confirmed for the fall.
On Yeah, I Carve Cheetah’s:
Los Angeles-based roots rock and electro trash duo Restavrant have created a visionary and positively indiosyncratic sound which involves both sides of the musical coin, so to speak. With bluesy slide guitar and countrified pickin’, gritty megaphone vocal delivery, harmonica, the layers provided by loop station programming, the catchy electric vibe of a keyboard, and the clank, tap and stomp of a junkyard drum kit, these two churn out something that is equal parts organic and mechanical, and equal parts rustic and urban. In nearly every way this is a combo that should not work, but somehow it does. It works remarkably well, in fact; so much so that Restavrant are now preparing to release the follow-up to their well-received 2008 debut Returns to the Tomb of Guiliano Medidici, at last. The upcoming album is titled Yeah, I Carve Cheetahs, of all things, and it is slated for a January 10, 2012 release from Hillgrass Bluebilly Records.
Yeah, I Carve Cheetahs finds Restavrant’s Troy Murrah and J State in the process of honing their highly experimental songcrafting even further, and thus surpassing the astonishing musical feats of their debut. Cheetahs has a bit more six-string fury and trashed-up energy, some stronger rhythms and bolder riffs, harder hitting beats, and increasingly intricate song structures in general than Returns. Out of the album’s twelve tracks, there are a few that I particularly appreciate, like “Six Years,” “Fight Myself,” “Bev D,” the title track “Yeah, I Carve Cheetahs,” “Oakley Shades,” and ”Lie o’ My Life.” And of course there is the one cover song on the album, CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising,” a much covered tune, to be sure, but it is likely the most peculiar and daring version to date.
In Hillgrass Bluebilly Records’ press release on the album, they state that they are proud to ”…unleash Restavrant’s second full length album Yeah, I Carve Cheetahsfor guaranteed heavy rotation on your various listening devices.” That was quite a prophetic statement; after all, the album has been in my player for the better part of two weeks, with only brief deviations to sample other newly acquired albums. But I keep returning to it, just as I imagine all of you who obtain copies of your own undoubtedly will.
Though they are currently residing in Los Angeles, California, Troy Murrah (guitar, banjo, harp, vocals) and J State (junk kit, other percussion, microKorg, and back-up vocals) hail from Victoria, Texas. Both locales are represented in Restavrant’s music in all of their differing points, from the Crossroads country and blues of Victoria to the melting pot music of Los Angeles. They have also played a number of gigs in both cities, and their wild sets, invariably followed by vigorous applause, have been highly appreciated by both audiences. And their albums, the content of which being all too similar to their live material, have also been met with the same level of appreciation.
Restavrant’s Yeah, I Carve Cheetahsis one of those rare follow-up albums that I find better than the one that came before it. And I, as a big fan of this duo, can only hope that this trend continues for future releases.
Incidentally, the boys have a handful of upcoming shows in support of Cheetahs. Most of the shows, to the disappointment of those fans who reside here on the east coast, are in the west. At a couple of the January shows, Restavrant will be sharing the bill with the side project of J.D. Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, The Dirt Daubers, and the Two Man Gentleman Band.
-James G Carlson – National Examiner