Slackers can usually find a comfortable place in the world of music – if there’s any place perfect for those who like to sleep all day, grow their hair long and indulge in a bit of herbal experimentation, it’s the music business. However, you still need an occasional burst of productivity to, you know, make a record or whatever.
You get the impression that Chief got round to recording their debut album Modern Rituals during one such moment of clarity, such is the languid style in which they hold themselves. A quartet of flannel-shirted, hairy chaps from California by way of a stint in New York University, Chief look like they should be loitering around the bleachers in an American high school show, being chucked into detention and sneering at the jocks.
Musically, Modern Rituals mirrors the band’s slacker image, but not necessarily in a good way. At certain moments, it’s a good listen, inspired by Roger McGuinn’s quivering croon and Neil Young’s languid riffs. The best example of this is probably ‘Breaking Walls’, which finds lead singer Evan Koga hazily ruminating on some existential matter over the top of a spiraling, reverb-heavy jangle before breaking into the album’s most insistent chorus. Sadly, it’s a rare moment of urgency on an album that fails to ever really get going.
The problem with Modern Rituals is typified by ‘This Land’, which opens with the lines “I’m so tired again/Can’t get out of bed again” over the most ambling of rhythms. Some pretty harmonies add a touch of sparkle, but the song simply fails to go anywhere. Much of the rest of the record follows a similar path, leaving you wondering why you should bother to make the effort of listening.
The basics are there with Chief, but they lack a spark that would make them stand out as anything special. Musically, the song structures are as bog-standard as Britpop, the lyrics constantly teeter on the edge of nonsense, while the lack of any real change in style save for rotating the guy on vocals means the tracks continue to merge into one another even after a few listens.
If they can find their USP, Chief might have something interesting to say on later albums – they need something like the OTT solos of Dinosaur Jr, or the inventive songwriting of My Morning Jacket for instance, to make them stand out. Whether they can find the time to work on this, rather than, you know, sleeping and shit, remains to be seen.
5Aaron Lavery's Score