Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “Specter at the Feast”

So far in my world 2013 has been a great year for new albums.  It started with Bloodgroup’s Tracing Echoes, followed by David Bowie’s The Next Day, culminating this week with an album I’ve been waiting on for over a year, Specter at the Feast by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

I came to BRMC by accident.  My first job out of college was working for a beer and wine wholesaler, and within a year or so I moved into a sales position with the company.  It was there that I first learned to love wine, something I had no experience with save one very unfortunate night in high school that’s best left undiscussed.  Despite that one exercise in horrible decision making, I quickly got into wine and gained a great appreciation for it, one I still have today.  Fast forward almost 20 years, and Holly and I find ourselves living close to the town where most of the Washington wineries have their tasting rooms.  So one sunny summer afternoon we headed into town and stopped off at the Mark Ryan winery tasting room, which not only had some great wines, but also a vintage Indian motorcycle on display.  And a really cool gig poster for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  I pointed out the poster to Holly and she replied, “Yeah, I have some of their stuff in my iTunes library.”  When we got home I downloaded their self-titled debut and fell in love.

Specter at the Feast is BRMC’s first studio album since I got turned onto them, and having already absorbed their first six LPs along with some of their sessions EPs, I was excited about the new material.  Unfortunately bassist Robert Levon Been lost his father, Michael Been (formerly a musician with The Call), prior to a show in Europe – he was traveling with the band at the time, and his loss was sure to influence the writing on the new album as BRMC’s music is very personal.  Not only is the new album dedicated to the late Been, but the band also included a cover of The Call’s “Let the Day Begin” on the album and released it as the first single (I thought the song sounded familiar the first time I listened to it… though I must admit I couldn’t place it at the time).

The album dropped on Tuesday and we headed out to Easy Street in West Seattle to pick it up on vinyl… only to find it was sold out!  I was bummed, but I still wanted to get this album and I’d already waited nearly a week to hear it, so I grabbed a copy on CD figuring that maybe I’ll still pick up the vinyl later.  In hindsight, I probably should have just downloaded from iTunes – for the same price, the electronic copy includes three bonus tracks.  Oh well.  I’d still rather put my money in the till of my local independent record store than give it to some huge corporation, so maybe I’ll just download the other three songs later.

Specter at the Feast is a meaty album – at 12 tracks on the CD with nearly 60 minutes of music, you’re getting your money’s worth.  Three tracks move past the six minute mark, with “Lose Yourself” clocking in at an almost hard-to-believe 8:39, though this isn’t new territory for BRMC who routinely include long songs on their albums.  Regardless, there’s a lot of music here.

The album opens with “Fire Walker,” and the vocals don’t even come in until after two minutes have passed, but when they do you know you’re listening to BRMC.  The sound is heavy, it’s low, it’s moody.  The music has a weight to it.  It can almost smother you at times, like a wet blanket.  But it’s so good.  The heavy echo on the vocals gives them a haunting quality, something you really notice on their slower, more soulful songs.  Even on fast tempo songs Peter Hayes almost sounds as if he’s moaning.

The overall pace of Specter at the Feast feels slower than prior albums – the prevailing mood is somber, and this certainly plays to the band’s strengths.  I’m not sure I’d go so far as describing it as “dark” (Holly says it “plods”), as there are certainly some songs here that rock, most notably  “Hate the Taste,” “Rival,” and “Teenage Disease.”  Interestingly, those three rockin’ tracks fall right into the middle of the album, one after the other (tracks five, six, and seven).  It’s almost as if they came from a completely different album than the other nine.  It’s actually a little disquieting.  But hey, that’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

I’m not sure this is the album I’d recommend to someone new to BRMC – for a newbie I’d suggest the outstanding (and faster paced) Baby 81.  But for those who are already fans of the band, or those of you who like your music moody, Specter at the Feast delivers with some amazing music and heartfelt lyrics and vocals.

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