There’s no point in denying it: Rock music has been usurped. While the reasons for this are tenfold, the lack of overt originality within the scene has remained a detractor from the style’s ongoing relevance within popular culture—especially in contrast to all the boundary-pushing within the hip-hop community. Indeed, this struggle to avoid self-plagiarization has become increasingly difficult for West Coast trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Luckily, BRMC never dug themselves into any stylistic holes, playing anything from caustic noise rock and West Coast garage rock to gloomy alt-country. This expansive musical palette gives them several avenues they can take during their songwriting process, which is what makes their eighth album, Wrong Creatures, such a refreshing listen. It doesn’t feature anything particularly surprising from the band, but it utilizes the most compelling attributes of their previous material to a riveting effect.
Wrong Creatures’ five singles show that BRMC has no problem with implementing multiple styles within a singular vision. While the rambunctious garage punk and Tom Waits-esque wordplay of “Little Thing Gone Wild” certainly contrast with the bluesy riffage and harrowing exposé of existential turmoil told through post-punk inflections found in “King of Bones,” continuity remains intact thanks to Peter Hayes’s vocal jumps from falsetto to baritone and the chemistry the trio has honed over the past 20 years.
Similarly, the glacial balladry and gorgeous arrangements of “Haunt” flows into the transcendent chorus melody and harmonious interplay between Hayes’s guitar and Robert Levon Been’s bass in “Echo,” finding common ground in a pervading influence from gravely Americana allows each aspect of the album to revel in southern gothic. This becomes especially potent in “Questions of Faith,” an alt-country dirge with one foot in electro-blues and the other in rousing spirituals, but underlying grit remains the focal point through much of the album.
Possibly the most compelling aspect of Wrong Creatures is how well it functions both as a unified concept and a track-by-track experience. The aforementioned tracks certainly stand on their own right, but the way they fit into the album experience makes them even more enjoyable. “DFF” begins the LP with just under two minutes of ritualistic ambiance, emphasizing the aura BRMC creates with their music. Catchier psych-punk tracks like “Spook” carry an emotional weight unprecedented for that approach, which in turn give their raw simplicity a far more memorable impact, but the undeniable musicality of the band truly manifests in more sprawling cuts.
“Ninth Configuration” and “Calling Them on Way,” respectively the longest and second longest songs on Wrong Creatures, provide the most clear-cut examples of how incredibly natural these three musicians sound while playing together. The former reaches a feel akin to The Smashing Pumpkins at their most spacious, with Leah Shapiro’s steadfast half-time beat giving Been ample room to assume a melodic role as easily as low-end rhythm support while Hayes’s guitar explores the stratospheres of washed-out shoegaze.
By contrast, the intimate soundscapes of the latter cut almost drive the band into chamber post-rock with its massive sound. As vocals melt into the seismic guitar swells riffs, middle-eastern nuances increase the song’s otherworldly aura. When coupled with themes surrounding mortality and the human condition, the resulting narcotic voyage will surely leave listeners floored. However, BRMC isn’t afraid to have some fun within their darkened themes.
Easily the riskiest and most appropriately titled track on Wrong Creatures, “Circus Bazooko” somehow manages to combine literal circus music with a psych-rock rhythm structure. They don’t apologize for the strange vibe, gleefully allowing organ lines to clash with vocal melodies and underlying modulations in an encapsulation of their ongoing use of dark humor to illustrate the heavy issues they tackle. This tonal adaptability is what keeps the album flowing and constantly taking different directions. Even with a more familiar blues-gaze outing like “Carried from the Start,” the creativity of these three musicians finds the perfect nucleus.
Never one to leave listeners without throwing one last curveball, BRMC ends Wrong Creatures with the satisfying “All Rise.” At once a piano-driven power ballad and an oceanic shoegaze journey, this track closes out an incredibly solid record with a celebration of the extremes they so seamlessly combine throughout this record. Though predominantly concerned with death, mortality and the human condition, this final cut leaves listeners with a sense of hope and resolve in the midst of melancholy.
Even though the sounds present on Wrong Creatures aren’t breaking new ground for the band, what they bring to the table is something many modern rock bands struggle to find—their own sound. There’s only one Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and as their continued success makes encouragingly clear, rock music can indeed still be impactful, aesthetically pleasing and reviving.
Follow writer Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.