Saturday, February 15, 2014

AP Album Review: Battleme- "Future Runs Magnetic" - A Savage Open Love Letter to Guitar Centric Dreamy Rock of Days Past

Battleme's- "Future Runs Magnetic" feels like a savage open love letter to the guitar centric rock of bands of days gone by like Blue Oyster Cult, Billy Squire, and Spacehog. It also veers into the indie /  dream theater/  new wave sounds of Silverchair, The Pixies, the Cars and Silversun Pickups as well as the bubblegum glam / pop of T-Rex and the Sweet. Luckily it all feels genuinely rendered. In the same way that Sam Flax steeps himself in a lot of late 70's psychedelia meets 80's glam creating sonic landscapes that feel like recordings of that era, Battleme celebrates iconic rock conventions like thick guitar at the forefront, the occasional jagged pick slides, screaming lead licks and hard rock pop that occasionally give way to melodic ballad rock that is not afraid to have a tender (even romantic) underbelly.

Battleme is songwriter / rocker Matt Drenik's alter ego. Drenik enlisted Doug Boehm as producer (Girls, Dr. Dog, Guided by Voices) and, I must say, these songs are exquisitely produced. If your taste favors the raw live sound of garage rock this is far from it. The thickness of the guitar and the lush production has a lot of appeal to me, once I gave myself up to it. The heavy bottom of the drums and bass alone vies for your full attention. Stir in the ever present crunchy rock guitar and you have a thick and high wall of sound. Drenik's vocal performance is slicked up too in a very slight reverb wash. Again, this speaks to me of a push back to that late 70's  rock sound. Even in the harder edged songs the vocal performance is smooth and measured. 

From the first feedback laden chords of Just Weight- the dreamy majesty almost makes you feel like you are floating inches off the ground. While you might generalize that a lot of punk and indie rock has a cynical edge, the tone of this opening track has a glammy enchanting side to it. A totally formidable and impressive opening track, it is dreamy, lovely rock theater. I fell in love with this song immediately.  I Know moves in such a way that the rock fury chases itself. On one hand it has a LA indie sound ala The Silversun Pickups and on the other it almost feels like it could of been on the 1986 Top Gun sound track.  Shotgun Song is a mid tempo burner (with a glam heart) propelled by a bass line that has notes that hang in mid air. It is a dream rock Mustang Sally but not quite.

The song that might feel the most nostalgic is the track Night On The Strand. It starts as a purely unadulterated rock ballad. It actually put me off at first. Felt a little too G-rated, too sweet. My heart shifted as the song shifted into second, third and then fourth gear. The power of the musical break is starry eyed rock personified. Edgy, emotional guitar phrasings that by themselves set a tone and story. The song won me over. The second ballad on "Future Runs Magnetic" is Cobweb Portrait. With it's down tempo feel and big sweeping guitar breaks that give way to spartan piano and forlorn vocals it is sure to be used in some movie about love lost... or found. Other stand outs are I Want My Kim Deal which moves so well and I Am a Lightning Bolt which coincidentally sound like it could be a new Pixies song. It has a similar shifty rhythmic and lead line feel to that of the recently released Another Toe In The Ocean.

It is apparent that Drenik has a love for guitar driven rock with a pop sensibility and overall the results work. The songs do not, however, have a wild sense of abandon or fury and maybe that is because they are much too polished to have any sharp edges. It feels like rock played on well kept guitars with nary a chip or duct tape holding them together. That being said the weighty guitar productions and well crafted songs do get your head banging enough and the tenderness of the dreamy ballads do strip away years of cynicism if you allow them to. To me, there are some missteps too. We Get Out with it's 50's retro synth line gets heavy enough but just doesn't sway me to it's side and the namesake of this record, Future Runs Magnetic, while steeped in a kind of blue collar rock vibe simply doesn't go anywhere all that interesting.

If the first track (Just Weight) is pure rock theater, the last track Easy Comes Riding feels like a sultry rock pop goodbye / come on. As Battleme, Drenik along with Eric Johnson (bass), Zach Richards (drums) and Evan Railton (synths) have made engaging rock with a wide eyed sense of pop wonder. It won't surprise me, in the least, if a few of these songs become an integral part today's pop culture and in my humble opinion that is all a starry eyed guitar slinging rocker could ever hope for.

Robb Donker

Battleme- "Future Runs Magnetic" drops March 11th via El Camino Records

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