There are bands that put out great headphones records, and there are bands that put on great live shows, but it’s the rare bird that can do both.
With their debut self-titled record and a litany of shows, especially at the now-defunct Port City Music Hall, Murcielago has already proved to be the rare bat (it’s Spanish), but the brand-new “Casualties” truly drives home what a crime it is that the heavy-rock quartet can’t celebrate by finding someplace to turn it up to 11.
Quite simply, it is an exquisite listen, driven by the tone and performance of guitarists Matthew Robbins and Ian Ross, who have created Murcielago’s reputation as the ultimate air-guitar band. There are riffs here for every occasion, from the cycling licks on which their songs are built to the soaring solos that punctuate and augment post-choruses and bridges. They walk a fine line between the structural, formatted world of metal and the more free-flowing, improvisational wizardry of classic rock, but they never fail to deliver head-nodding, hard-driving energy.
Oh, to be in the front row! To feel Brian Chaloux’s thrumming floor toms in your chest as he opens “Raven,” providing an introduction to meditative soloing by both guitars in parallel harmony that then breaks into a rage of old-time Sabbath bombast! If you’ve made your peace with not seeing a rock show for another six months, this is maybe not the album to throw on the turntable: “I’ve been inside,” wails Neil Collins, “and I know what it means to be gone.”
Collins knows how to deliver the big singalong choruses, too. “Sherman’s March” features a majestic refrain. “I’m trying,” Collins sings, tinged with regret, “to say good morning, to say good morning, to say goodbye,” before Chaloux throws in a vicious breakdown and Collins brings it all back around again. It has all the makings of an epic set-closer, with a keyboard open (Spencer Albee), a batch of elegant little licks, a big late-song solo – even a false ending. Just give me a world again where we can sing that chorus together until our throats get hoarse.
And while Murcielago probably fit most comfortably in the so-called “stoner rock” tradition popularized by Queens of the Stone Age and the like, there’s so much more here. “The Highest Low” is a frenzied punk track, where Collins closes verses with “I really think so,” like an aside. Here, especially, Benny Grotto’s Mad Oak Studios mix is right on point, with Collins intermingled with the guitars like he’s swimming in them, the first solo screaming out to the front.
Here you can get lost in the ways the riffs modulate and double back on one another, grounded by the weight of Chaloux’s strikes.
And Murcielago can be delicate, too. One of the high points of the album is the cool little give and take in the bridge of “Greaselock,” where Collins purrs out a “doo-doo doo doot doo” and one guitar mimics his vocal melody, while the other puts out spacey, wicka-wicka backing. It’s just so playful and charming, a dynamic contrast with the hammer they bring down for the song’s final minute, which devolves into cycling low-end feedback.
They get spacey, too, in “Naked in Night Court,” where the chorus pulls back into the kind of psychedelia Dominic Lavoie is trafficking in, underscoring, especially, Collins’ range of delivery. He really shows himself here to be a world-class rock vocalist. It’s certainly a shame not to be able to see him perform these varied parts.
No geeking out on their vintage gear and intricate pedalboards. No Fu Manchu mustaches. No leather pants and thick-soled boots. No guitar-solo face. The scene is just so easy to call to mind as the songs stretch out to five, six, seven minutes it is hard not to lament its lack.
But having a new album you can absolutely lose yourself in is pretty welcome, regardless. If you go with the vinyl, the listening experience is especially good, as they’ve cut two tracks in order to have enough groove space for appropriate tone and depth (the colored vinyl sold out on Record Store Day, but there’s still black vinyl to be had at Bull Moose stores). But only the biggest audiophiles will miss anything on the streaming services (and, hey, you get a download card with the album purchase).
This album is a heavy-rock joy. And someday we’ll celebrate it together.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 weeks, 5 songs
A bit of a throwback week, for you local historians:
• J Spin, “Must Be the Weather” — Did you like Bensbeendead.’s soothing vibes? J Spin’s trafficking in the same substance. This one’s a nostalgic look and early life reassessment: “What’s a life if you’re never gonna risk it/ Sounds kind of dry, like the taste of a Triscuit.” And a nice video, too, shot and directed by Bird Theory.
•The Franklin Mint, “Go West” — First recorded and released nearly 20 years ago, this is part of the self-titled album this Portland five-piece indie rock outfit have just now put online for the first time. Long-time locals will appreciate the three bonus tracks, live cuts from performances at the long-defunct indie-rock haven The Skinny, in the building now occupied by Geno’s.
• Spose, Chris Webby, and Ekoh, “Talk So Much” — Part of a series of releases Spose promises for every two weeks, culminating in the release of his next album, this is a classic diss track: “Your shit’s weak, it’s a croc, it’s rubber shoes you rock on your feet.” And you’ll hear why producer Teddy Roxpin is so in demand, too.
• The Boarders, “Trouble Train” — Did you think that Franklin Mint track was a throwback? This is Portland country straight out of the ’80s, part of a treasure trove of work that long-time local musician Doug Hubley has been posting to Bandcamp and his personal site over the past six months or so. Dive in.
• Jay Bragg, “Physical Education” — The opening track of Bragg’s third EP of the year, “Find Me in a Song, Vol. 3,” this once again puts on display his talents for writing classic country tunes, full of fiddle jags and all kinds of twang and drawl: “I want to get your hands all over my imagination.”
— Sam Pfeifle