THE BEST OF 2007
BRMC sets the new standard for cool
Editor's note: This the second story in a series highlighting the best that 2007 had to offer.
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
In April of 2007, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released an album, Baby 81, that was as impressive for the music within as it was for its attitude. I’m speaking, of course, that they’re right now the absolute coolest band on the planet. I mean, it just drips off them right now. There’s so much cool there that it must be hard for these three guys to know what to do with themselves.
Now, cool should not necessarily be an acceptable measure of a piece of music’s worth. Plenty of useless things have been considered cool at one point or another. Joe Camel comes to mind, as do blinking snowboots, mullets and Ben Affleck. But to dismiss it is to ignore reality. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are doused in cool. Their dark demeanor on stage, their all-black attire, their slow, deliberate movements and their gigantic guitar noises all point to cool.
The reason for this record being my favorite of 2007 isn’t just that it’s cool, though that doesn’t hurt. No, it’s the marriage of bigger-than-life rock with the folk roots of their amazing 2005 album HOWL that makes this record a winner.
The band, since its earliest days, has been interested in making a shocking racket on stage. Robert Levon Been’s bass is thick and bottom heavy, making it perfect to rattle the room, while Peter Hayes’ guitar lines are sullen and thundering to match. Throw in a penchant for drawn-out, feedback-driven jams, and you have a band ready and willing to out-noise everyone else in music.
But their take on the country and roots music of classic Americana was stunning for its accuracy, warmth and brilliance. They were able to completely leave their past behind, switching to acoustic instruments and incorporating new sounds with organs, trombones and the like. The change in direction led to an incredibly authentic take on roots music, and they made the move so skillfully that it left the band in a quandary. Where do they go next? Do they ignore their noise-driven past? Is HOWL a one-off experiment?
No, and no. Instead, BRMC decided to let nature take its course and let the two sounds collide. “666 Conducer” takes the slowed-down blues of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” and adds in a narrative that tackles purity, sin, temptation and the mark of the beast. “Weapon of Choice” opens with fast acoustic strums and ends with the discontented cries of an unsatisfied citizen. “Berlin” questions the end of the revolution while drums and bass plod away.
The results are stunning. It’s music made by angry young men at the top of their game, with complete confidence in their abilities and the fearlessness to allow their sound to grow.
BRMC have always been good, and they have often been great. But on Baby 81, they reach a level that many bands bands aspire to, yet few ever achieve. Simply, they are in complete command of their craft as musicians. Their approach is fearless, and the music on this record reflects that passion. Confidence and command — there is nothing in this world cooler than that.
... AND A FEW MORE GEMS
Marc Ford — Weary and Wired: A fantastic and brilliant approach to blues rock, this album is one of the best of its kind in ages.
Queens of the Stone Age — Era Vulgaris: It’s obvious that Josh Homme has never gone through an “awkward” phase.
Spoon — Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: Brit Daniel and company keep things low-key and remain as daring as ever.
The Shins — Wincing the Night Away: It’s only their third album, yet the Shins sound like a band delivering years ahead of schedule.
Eddie Vedder — Into the Wild: Pearl Jam’s leader lends his voice to an incredible film and answers with a soundtrack to match.
Thurston Moore — Trees Outside the Academy: Sonic Youth’s center takes another step outside of his comfort zone with this remarkable solo effort.
The White Stripes — Icky Thump: Has Jack White let you down yet? The answer should be a resounding “No.”