Monday, March 25, 2013

There Is A BRMC Specter At The Feast

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Fueled in part by the tragic death of bassist/singer Robert Levon Been’s father Michael Been (The Call), Specter At The Feast is arguably the most ambitious Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC) album in recent history and the first in three years. Some tracks stand with and sometimes eclipse their earlier work, opening what appears to be a new chapter for the band.

The album itself took two years to produce, with the band frequently taking breaks between recording sessions to tour South America and play their first shows in South Africa and China. Late last year, they booked a three-show tour in California as a foreshadow to the anticipated release. They sold out at all three venues: Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.

Specter At The Feast digs into the human experience. 

As most BRMC fans know, Michael Been was always supportive and involved with the band. He mixed the band's Live In London release and worked as a sound engineer on tours. It was on tour, at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium, that he suffered a fatal heart attack. Since the tragedy, Robert Levon Been has played with The Call, filling in for his father at reunion appearances.

The first single released ahead of the album is also telling of the band's love and loss. Rather than launch the album with new tracks, BRMC covered the hit song Let The Day Begin by The Call. Released in 1989, it was the biggest crossover hit that The Call enjoyed during its 20-year history.

Known for its insistent bass and driving guitars, Let The Day Begin fits BRMC today as much as it did The Call three decades ago. The band was generally considered underrated, largely because The Call dismissed following the cult of personality that influenced much of the music made in the 1980s.

The same can be said about BRMC, except that this band came together during a decade that was looking for something different. Formed while alternative rock was in decline, Robert Levon Been and guitarist Peter Hayes (The Brian Jonestown Massacre, 1998) set their sound apart.

They seem to have done so again with the release of Specter At The Feast, even if not everyone will appreciate it. The album, with 15 tracks and an hour play time, traps the band into some repetition and isn't always sure where it is going with stripped back arrangements and varied influences.

However, the more you listen to the sometimes listless and sometimes grief-stricken meanderings of Been, Hayes, and drummer Leah Shapiro (Raveonettes), the more songs like Lullaby, Sell It, Hate The Taste, and Fire Walker (once the bassline kicks in) rise to the surface. Other tracks, like Returning, need a little more attention before they stick.

It's inside the lyrics that the track captures the juxtaposition that the loss of loved one stops us cold and carries us on at the same time. They are gone, and yet somehow with us with every step forward. The song is surreal and sober, sad and comforting. The same can be said about the album, tittering back and forth between heavy and mellow, pedestrian and fresh.

Specter At The Feast By BRMC Haunts 6.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Had BRMC shed a couple tracks, sticking with more mellow or heavy songs, there might be less criticism on the front end. But give it some time and some reviewers might find themselves backtracking on some finer points. There is no doubt that this album has all the markings of a great live set, with plenty of room for the band to pick up on whatever moods it wants.

Specter at the Feast by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is available on Amazon. You can also download it from iTunes or order vinyl from Barnes & Noble. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is currently touring Europe with plans to return stateside in May. Check Facebook for the most recent show dates. They also have a 6-part video short series worth checking out on YouTube.
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