Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chief: Modern Rituals

Modern Rituals
Rating: 2.0/5.0
Label: Domino

Cynical rule of thumb; the more PR material a critic receives for a band's debut album, the worse said album actually is. Modern Rituals, the debut release from California-by-way-of-NYU band Chief, does nothing to challenge that notion. An extensive bio waxes poetic about melodies packed into the suitcases of the outgoing college boys, obligatory references are made to Neil Young, the Band, Love and the Beach Boys, and an all-for-one, one-for-all sense of band solidarity is emphasized. One would be forgiven for expecting Modern Rituals to be an instrumentally-blazing, genre-busting premier effort from one of indie's most promising young bands.

The actual results are something far different, and something far more disappointing. Over 11 songs, Chief sputters in place, revisiting similar musical turf on nearly every track, never suggesting much more than that its four members have clearly listened to a lot of vintage records from the '60s and '70s. A specific formula is rigidly applied to these mid-tempo rockers: bright, ringing guitars, steady drumming, clean bass lines and California-cool background harmonies. Any real variety can be had only in the album's vocals: primary vocalist Evan Koga sings in a nasal, Tom Petty-lite style, whereas Danny Fujikawa favors a sensitive-folksy voice that recalls Midlake's Tim Smith and a whole army of wounded-heart '70s types.

None of the songs are particularly engrossing, regardless of the vocalist. The arrangements' repetition is just too much to ignore; the opening trio of "The Minute I Saw It," "Nothing's Wrong" and "Wait for You" are one-trick ponies, with "Wait for You" being particularly verbose in its first several lines. In the album's latter half, "Stealing" and "Summer's Day" are likewise leaden and without momentum. The songs Fujikawa sings - "This Land," "You Tell Me" and "Irish Song" - are slower and more acoustic-oriented, but are done in by insipid lyrics ("I'm so tired again/ Can't get out of bed again") and, in the case of "You Tell Me," a saccharine testament to the redemptive power of LOVE. It's of course inevitable that a band will carry its style and similarities from one song to the next, but Modern Rituals most often feels like watching the same movie scene - and a pretty lousy one at that - over and over.

There is some promise here, however rare. "In the Valley" is easily the album's most mature and carefully executed track, a slow-burning ballad that may make listeners wish that Modern Rituals had more songs of its caliber. The album's production does also deserve mention, as it's vibrant, clean and uncluttered, almost a bit of an anomaly among the current indie bands that make sonic mazes of their songs. But that one track and a fairly concise set of arrangements are consolation prizes only, and not much of those at that. The songs' content is purely California stuff, man, and some decent observations are made in these lyrics - Pacific coasts, shining suns, beach breezes and broken down relationships - but whatever merits the lyrics might have are overshadowed by a sameness of sound that is simply impossible to look past.

1 comment:

Dalton said...

I don't know, I think this is a pretty good debut. I am guessing all of the hype soured your expectations. This is a pretty solid album. I agree with you though that it is a bit too much California cool.