John Reis has never been one to keep quiet. So it was no surprise when, in the wake of the end of Rockets from the Crypt and the then-end of Hot Snakes, he launched a new project in the Night Marchers. They took RFTC’s irrepressible, rockabilly-cum-face-punch rock and injected it with some of the angles and brittle charge of Hot Snakes and, before them, Drive Like Jehu.
But the band’s first album, See You in Magic, was five years ago. And sure, Hot Snakes have played together sporadically, and Swami Records is back up and running, but that’s a surprising bit of silence from the Reis camp. Now that he’s back with Allez Allez, though, that silence is long forgotten within 30 seconds of the opening track’s shredding riffs. The formula doesn’t change much here, but Reis has spent decades crafting his own twists on rock traditions, so his bands aren’t the kind of outfits that need any real reinvention. Instead they just attack head on, playing the sounds they know and love and hitting each note, each chugging bass line, each snap of the snare or crash of the cymbal with as much power and energy as they can muster. Which, you know, is a lot.
So it’s still refreshing to be thrown into the swampy grind of “Tropical Depression”. It’s great to see the band take a sunburst classic-rock sound and, on “All Hits”, twist it into their own sneering/smirking brand of basement-show fury. “Thar She Blows” renders the guitars equal parts slicing and warbling, while Reis belts out that title declaration in his gruff near-crooning voice. There are moments, like the stretched-out chorus in “Thar She Blows”, that things get bigger, even arena sized, and it’s moments like this that remind you that the Night Marchers aren’t averse to new tricks, they just thrive on restraint, even as they amps get turned to 11.
The best moments on Allez Allez, though, do break the mold a bit. “Pain”, with its defeated yet excited start (“I think I’m falling in pain with you”) is a nice twist away from rockabilly bluster and into something a bit more spacious, a bit moody, something that opens up different emotional avenues in these songs. The guitars ripple here more than they cut, and Reis relaxes his shout to a worried groan, so that the band doesn’t lose the energy so much as direct it toward the shadows they’re so often busting out of. “(Wasting Away In) Javelinaville” is quick but the guitars take on a haze, and the rhythm section makes some space behind them, while on “Ned Lud” they take their usual lock-step and pit it against the ringing chords that open up the song into something bigger. This is curious, since both songs are about self-imposed isolation (“Wake me in my cave when everybody’s dead”), but it’s the music that reveals a yearning, perhaps, for connection under the misanthropy of the words.
These are the most revealing moments on a record that tends to lose messages in the noise. Allez Allez doesn’t lack for energy, but the moments we expect – i.e. the bluesy shuffle of “2 Guitars Sing”, the sheer speed of “Loud Dumb and Mean” – while they may sound good individually, create some ear fatigue as they pile up one after another. It doesn’t help that the album closes with boilerplate stomping for over five minutes on the unfortunately named “Fisting the Fan Base”. That aside, you’re not likely to be turned off by anything here, but the Night Marchers worked some nuance into the noise in moments here, and it’s that subtlety you may find yourself wishing to hear more of. Reis may not need reinvention, but when he stumbles on a fruitful new path, it feels strange to hear him retreat from it back to more well-worn sounds.
// Notes from the Road
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