I know that this is a two year old album, so it seems odd that i am just getting around to reviewing it. The band sent us a promo download back in 2011, and i put this album on my phone. I have an Android phone, and every time you hit "shuffle" in Android it starts with the first track, alphabetically, in that playlist and THEN randomizes. The first song on this record is called " " -- yes, one blank space in between two quotes, which is, alphabetically, the first thing possible. So for two years every single time i hit shuffle that song has come up first. After a while, i learned to hit SKIP immediately after SHUFFLE.
However, there are seven other tracks here, and they come up in the random play and i find that i love the music, which is fuzzy, catchy, pop music. Very cool and maybe I ought to give " " another try. But then the vocals kick in…
Vocalist Jesse Alexander sings like the words are sticking in his throat and he has to hock them up, like my cat puking half-digested hair onto the hardwoods. It is an aggressively quirky singing style, and at first i thought that i really disliked it. But the songs were so strong that i kept coming back to them. In time, i grew to accept the quirky vocals, and after even longer, i grew to like them. Alexander's vocals are a peculiar Battle Ave. thing, and their music would not be the same with regular vocals.
Wow, that almost sounds like i have Stockholm Syndrome, doesn't it? Well, no matter. The point here is this: the voice sounds odd and takes some getting used to, but the overall strength of the music makes it worthwhile, and, in fact, the odd vocals make this something a little unique. There is no one else out there who sounds exactly like Battle Ave. Oh, sure, there is a bit of mid-era Sonic Youth, some Television, and even some Modest Mouse all thrown together here. And although i can hear the influence of those other acts (and more), the overall effect is all Battle Ave., and there aren't a lot of bands i can say that about. I know immediately when one of their tunes shows up in my random play that it is a Battle Ave. tune. That uniqueness is something very precious to someone who listens to dozens of generic promo albums a week...
Anyway, let's just go over the eight tunes here.
War Paint starts off with the previously mentioned " " , which is the Battle Ave. song that i have heard most frequently. It is a good start to the record, beginning with a keyboard drone that lingers as the band seemingly discusses their plan of attack off mic, their voices faint in the background. Bass starts thumping, and guitar tinkles lightly. Then Alexander steps in, HOWLING in his weird voice. The drums kick in, and the whole thing rocks along for 5 minutes, then suddenly transitions into a catchy indie pop tune with nice strong piano tinkling and the guitars crunchy and good over top.
It is an odd transition, but it really works. It is also the way that Battle Ave. work -- often veering off in a different direction, taking the listener on a strange journey that seems like a tangent, but soon grows to feel like the only possible conclusion to the song.
Oh Other, You Brother starts with the guitar counting out a catchy melody while the drums thunder. Alexander positively wails here, in anguish, twisting and torturing his voice like Richard Hell or Dave Thomas. Not to imply that his voice is that powerful (he might be the heir to Dave Thomas, but this recording neither confirms nor denies that), but he plays with the dynamics of his voice in a very Pere Ubu-esque manner, especially on this song. And he does it here under a rumbling bass riff and nice guitarwork.
Battle Ave. get their classic rock on with Whose Hands Are These?. The guitars here remind me of ... well something from the 1970s that has blended into the musical background. BTO maybe? One of those vaguely bluesy rock acts. This is the weakest song on the record, and it's second shortest. The band channels Modest Mouse on Dark Horse/White Horse, which is a decent song, but really could have been an outtake from This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About.
But the next track, ah, here Battle Ave. are back to themselves. The song has the interesting title of Puke Lust and rocks along nicely. It starts with some strummed guitar and then the whole band kicks in, female voices singing plainly next to Alexander’s warble as the rhythm drives the whole thing forward, the guitars soaring in layers. Damn, this rocks.
Puke Lust rumbles to a close and Complications W/ The Home (Hermia) starts quietly, Alexander singing pretty clearly over a scattered drumbeat and slowly chiming guitars. It grows a little noisy, then the sound parts to a moment of plain picked guitar before the band comes back in with horns echoing for a bit before everything goes all noisy and messy and loud. Lovely.
They slow it down for Complications W/ Traveling, which is mostly sparse guitar, tapped drums, and droning keys. Alexander's howl sounds more despaired than angry here. The song grows and grows, gradually speeding up and adding in more layers, until one guitar squeals away lightly, while the other makes noodley noise, and the rhythms keeps a sauntering beat as a horn calls a swinging but slowish melody... Eventually the guitar feedback overwhelms all the other sounds to end the song in a Sonic Youth-y haze. Really nicely done.
And finally the record ends with "K. Divorce" (For Mildred), which is a good solid rocker from the band. It gets a little Sonic Youth noisy on the choruses, and gets a little U2 epic on the verses. It is a ten minute song that ebbs and flows, from noise to epic and back again. It is also another rather brilliant tune on this record, one that i doubt many other bands could pull off so well.
Overall, this is a fine album. Battle Ave. are doing some pretty interesting things, and doing them well. You can name your own price for a download of this on Bandcamp. It's worth at least a few bucks.
Now, after i decided that i did really like this record and wanted to write about it, i went to the band's website. They have been silent a while, but promise more announcements soon, and even have a few gigs in NY coming up. So they are still out there, hopefully fighting the good fight and making music their way. I look forward to whatever they do next, and will try to get to it in less than two years next time.