So far 2018 is off to an exciting musical start. Dream Wife’s debut LP ships in a week or so and Gusgus announced their new album is coming out in February, so those are two big releases I’m looking forward to. But beating both of them out of the gate was another of my favorite bands, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who dropped their latest, Wrong Creatures, last week.
BRMC are known for their darker style of rock, something that blurs the boundaries of psych, hard rock, and shoegaze. They’ve also been known to experiment a bit, putting out an acoustic album called Howl and the considerably more risky instrumental The Effects of 333, an album one reviewer described as BRMC’s very own Metal Machine Music, though perhaps even more bizarre for being self-released as opposed to a contractual obligation like Reed’s now-canonical noise record. So going into Wrong Creatures was a bit like taking a turn down a random alley in a city you don’t know – I had no idea what I was going to find there. Fortunately it wasn’t rats and dead bodies.
The intro, “DFF”, establishes an interesting mood, more reminiscent of electronica than rock, a blend of tribal jungle beats, fuzzy guitar, and a sort of moaning that floats through it, reminding me a bit of the vibe of President Bongo’s electronic ode to Africa, Serengeti. But then the riff kicks in for the first full-length track, “Spook”, and it’s clear that this is the BRMC we know, a sonically dense and relentless powerhouse. I often see BRMC’s songs described as “simmering” and “a slow burn”, and while those may be overused and therefore at times lazy descriptors (♠) they still hold true, probably nowhere more so than here. “Spook” and the following track, “King of Bones”, are my favorites after a half dozen or so listens, though I know myself well enough to realize this could simply be because they’re in the BRMC style I like the best. Ask me again in six months and I could well have different preferences.
After the pair of early rockers, Wrong Creatures settles into a more low key psych groove. Songs like “Echo” maintain the established density, but move with more of a slow flow like the surface of a lake in the early morning. While there’s a slight underlying tension, you never feel as if things are going to move back to a more rock direction, “Little Thing Gone Wild” being perhaps the one exception.
BRMC have been around long enough to have been dissected completely, their musical influences parsed out and analyzed and categorized. I haven’t paid much attention to this in general, but there are two similarities that smacked me right in the face from the very first listen and become impossible to ignore, cementing themselves in my mind during subsequent listens. The first are elements of The Stooges, which first become apparent on “King of Bones” with some almost carnival-like progressions, but not the happy kind of carnival, more the run down one at the outskirts of town populated by slow-moving drunks at the end of the night, something not overtly frightening but with the potential for danger, one that certainly makes you more aware of your surroundings as you keep your eyes open for potential threats. The other is the Doors-like organ and trippy pace on “Circus Bazooko” and the following track “Carried From the Start”.
Holly and I are heading down to Portland, Oregon next month to catch BRMC live. We could have just stayed here and seen them in Seattle, but they’re playing the amazing Roseland in Portland and it’s an excuse to hit up some of the city’s awesome record shops, so we figured why not. And if Wrong Creatures is any indication of what to expect, it’s going to be a great show.
(♠) And descriptors I’ve used many, many times myself on Life in the Vinyl Lane. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m being hypocritical, because that accusing finger is also pointing directly at myself.