From the opening, slightly hypnotic swirl of “The Minute I Saw It”, the opening track from Modern Rituals, Chief’s first full length release, it becomes fairly easy to become seduced by the band’s classic rock-leaning groove. However, with no shortage of folkish, melodically heavy indie bands making the rounds these days, it also becomes just as easy to write the band off as another dust collecting four-piece. Modern Rituals isn’t exactly a complex listen, but it does beg the question: is there anything of substance to these guys?
Their story isn’t all that dramatic in scope either. The members all grew up in California but met in New York while attending University. Just what the world needs: another band full of white guys from University. Yet rather than bringing their vibe-y, sunny groove to the forefront or falling victim to the pressures of NYC cool, the band manages to blend each distinctive sound with their own matured sense of purpose. For Chief, whose hippie roots are impossible not to hear on tracks like “This Land”, the spacey ode to well, the natural beauty of the land they used to call home, Modern Rituals still showcases a band that clearly possessed a remarkable amount of focus for their debut. Lead singer Evan Koga lets his voice bend and stretch with poise and never lets it slip too far away. “Breaking Away” even manages to dabble in southern soul-inspired rock, and Koga’s voice even manages to sound penetrating.
Chief place a lot of emphasis on the importance of quality song writing on Modern Rituals, that much we know. There’s some fairly obvious hooks that litter the record. The relaxed waltz that is “In The Valley” might grab you on first listen, but one can’t help but wonder if Chief plan on departing from the classic-rock manual anytime soon. There isn’t much weight to the somber and airy acoustic roll of “Irish Song”, nor is there anything remotely daring about “Nothing’s Wrong”, which is the kind of track fathers who are still intuitive enough to shop in record stores would dig the hell out of. In that sense, Chief’s attempt to amalgamate both their current locale and musical influences of the past fails glamorously: by not making any grand, sonic leaps, they sit comfortably on the fence, content to churn out catchy tracks like the stomping “Wait For You”, which contain very little lyrical density, but would go over quite well on a mismatched crowd.
Not all is lost, though. Producer Emery Dobyns manages to bring out some of the richer elements of Chief’s songs, including the all-for-one chorus of first single “Night And Day”. If Modern Rituals is to succeed, then it will surely be on the weight of Dobyns’ fantastic production which should have Chief FM radio-ready in no time.
It’s as if Chief wanted to sound as grand as possible, but by wanting to do too much, they ultimately end up accomplishing very little. This is catchy, easy-going stuff; but the obvious and at times, plaintive feel of the record doesn’t exactly beg for repeated spins.