The Belgian rockers arrive a tad late to the garage rock revival, but come bearing a bevy of scorching tunes.
Do fads have echo booms? Common thought would have the garage rock revival of the last decade dead and buried for some time now. Yet here comes Black Box Revelation, two infectiously enthusiastic childhood friends bearing twin fists of sludgy, dive-bar rhythm and blues reminiscent of once-breathlessly hyped, would-be rock ‘n’ roll saviors the Hives and Von Bondies. If nothing else, Jan Paternoster and Dries Van Dijck, the Belgian young guns that comprise Black Box Revelation, are certainly some of the biggest fans of vintage, grimy rock prowling the streets today. Going by their musical output alone, the boys live and breathe in labored gasps the sweat-stained, live-wire variety best exemplified by the Rolling Stones' legendary Exile on Main Street. They're a young outfit, and their exuberance for this particular strain of rock 'n' roll is evident on nearly every track of their third effort, My Perception.
There's a fine line between original music that reveals overt influences and shameless pastiche, and Black Box Revelation are tap dancing all over it. That's understandable, after all: A natural aspect of any artist's progression is replicating the music that speaks most indelibly to him or her. So My Perception then showcases a nascent band in a transitory state, searching for its own voice and borrowing Mick Jagger's to tide it over in the meantime. Which is not to say the songs on display here are uninspired or cheap knock-offs; there's enough blood and guts on the opening track alone to sate a whole hoard of ravenous vampires. "High on a Wire", cemented by a bluesy, pulsing riff that stops just short of lifting ZZ Top’s “La Grange” wholesale and dooming the lads to a lifetime of paying out royalties to Billy Gibbons, sets the tone for the following twelve tracks: a no-nonsense rocker with Paternoster's grizzled growl espousing perfunctory, self-aggrandizing lyrics. One could chalk up the innocuous lyrics and their afterthought-nature to the duo being native French speakers, but buried underneath the propulsive riffs and booming drums, it doesn’t really matter what they’re saying, so much as how.
What sets My Perception apart from its forebearers or even its early-aughts garage-rock revivalist-brethren like Jet and The White Stripes are the little touches here and there that serve to punch up their tunes -- the chirpy keyboard solo that spirals out of control on "High on a Wire", the bongo back-beat of the title track, the snotty whistling on “Good Swimmer”; these admittedly peripheral flourishes not only make their respective songs appreciably better, but they also display a certain degree of thoughtfulness and musical creativity that is otherwise not immediately evident.
The parade of white-knuckled rock songs comes to an abrupt end late in the disc, when the boys indulge their psychedelic predilections with a pair of plodding dirges, “2 Young Boys” and “Lonely Hearts”. If the vast majority of My Perception calls to mind golden-age Stones, these two missteps unfortunately reflect the infamous Their Satanic Majesties Request. Psychedelia is a difficult genre to dip one’s toes in; it presents a musical landscape fraught with plodding rhythms, indulgent excess, and a labyrinthine structure, with no clear end in sight when the going gets bad. When done right, it provides a mesmerizing auditory experience, but Black Box Revelation’s initial forays into the genre are marked by drudgery and a bleak outlook that seems incongruent with the rest of the band’s material. The best thing that can be said about these two tracks is that they serve to highlight just how good Black Box Revelation can be when the boys stick with what works. Thankfully, they do just at on the final track, “My Girl”, righting the ship as they lay on the howling guitars and guttural vocals to send the album out on a sweaty sea of sleaze.
It’s difficult to fault Black Box Revelation for so brazenly and shamelessly showcasing their influences, not when the riff-pinching is done so lovingly and the results are this thunderous. Make no mistake, these boys are good at what they do, and they truly, whole-heartedly fucking mean it. An older, burned-out band could take this same material, built around boozy grooves and sing-along melodies, and churn out a lifeless hunk of vinyl (Oasis’s detached, inert, and unintentionally ironically-named swan song, Dig Out Your Soul comes to mind), but Jan and Dries’s enthusiasm and vigor bolster their tunes. Songs that could have easily meandered and sputtered along, instead rollick with gleeful bombast. Although we’ve all heard these songs a thousand times before, even as recently as five years ago, when the seedy, barroom rock is done this well and pounds away so relentlessly, sometimes you’ve just got to smile and go along for the ride.