Chief - Modern Rituals
This one is a real and unexpected gem. Straddling the divide between the kinetics of Band of Horses and the elegant Americana of Fleet Foxes, Chief (terrible name, lads, really terrible) deliver a debut of genuine depth and beautiful, decade-spanning re-invention. Modern Rituals is a collection of songs that demonstrates a real love for, and a real way with, US rock ‘n’ roll heritage. This young four piece know their stuff so well, in fact, that comparison with their peers, on reflection, is as wayward as it is un-flattering. If you thirst for soul and bravado from the hordes of plaid-wearing wannabes, but you find that your particular preferences (or just your cynicism) leave you hungry and dissatisfied, this might be the answer. File next to Neil Young, The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival. And please, please, please. Buy this bloody record.
Modern Rituals takes the cold metal of your jaunty rifferama and heats it up with a nod to the past and with an eye on the West Coast sun. Chief relocated from NYC after college to their home in California to ply their trade. Mmm. Plan comes together and all that. Repeated listenings (non-stop, I have to say, for this listener) expose the bedrock. Beneath the surface attractions, which include a deadly mix of two excellent lead singers and some deft playing, exists an identity and character that elevates Chief way above the scene. Most songs here demonstrate a brutal disregard for the conventions on which they’re built while retaining enough traditional elements to keep things properly alive with history. A chord change that continues the sequence’s descent rather than resolving the phrasing more sunnily, lyrics that set the darkest battles of the heart against tub-thumping power chord progressions – Chief never take the road most travelled.
Opener ‘The Minute I Saw It’ fires off a monstrous riff (shades of ‘Weather With You’, weirdly) and introduces Evan Koga, whose vocals are a rare delight. Koga is one of those singers whose uncommon vibrato recalls the greats. Frustratingly, I can’t quite put my finger on who he brings to mind but there are shades of John Fogerty. That’ll do, eh? Guitarist Danny Fujikawa takes the lead on just three songs here and though he’s clearly number two in the pecking order, I’m just a smidgeon fonder of his delicate alto. His terrifically sad songs are as tender as the night. Not falling to pieces during the chorus of ‘This Land’ (“This land is ripe for the taking / I’d rather be deep inside of it …") is hardly an option. On the tremulous ‘You Tell Me’, when he sings “Oh Danny, come on now, come on now” means bugger all on this page, I know, but, trust me, it’s heart rending stuff. Programmed beautifully – just when you’ve had enough wistful reflection, they plug in and open the throttle – and ending on an absolute killer (the semi epic ‘Night and Day’), ‘Modern Rituals’ is that rare thing. It’s a debut made by young men whose lofty confidence and moulding of ageing materials is supported by breathtaking capability and laudable respect for tradition.