Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains, S/T (Saddle Creek Records, 2008)
MP3: “I Hate My Friends”
If somebody slipped us this new Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains album with a homemade cover on it saying “New Killers Album Inside!,” we’d probably totally believe it upon first listen to lead track “Love Can Be So Mean.” It’s all there: the synthy undertones, the double-time on the hi-hat drumming, the BIG TIME guitar riffs, the overwrought, dramatic singing. All that’s missing are some lines about Las Vegas casinos and a jacket with bird feathers on the lapel.
Thing is, we’ve heard some of the new Killers album. And, you know, it’s not that bad or whatever (although that “are we human, or are we dancers” line is pretty awful), but, it’s still the Killers: a band so un-punk and prissy that it’s almost impossible to like them past the guilty-pleasure point.
Thing also is, we know Sebastien Grainger. He was in Death From Above 1979, the drums-and-bass duo that took punk’s “fuck it” attitude and applied it to the skuzzier elements of classic rock and dance music with wild success on 2004’s I’m a Woman, You’re A Machine. So even though the new solo work by Grainger and his Mountains share a similar fascination with the Boss and Bowie — as do the Killers — the former drummer-cum-rock-and-roll-troubadour has his foot rooted in enough of punk rock’s history to ever come off as squeaky clean as Flowers and crew. Plus, we don’t think he’d ever wear a jacket with bird feathers on the lapel (he much prefers suspenders and a v-neck t-shirt).
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, on to the jams — and jams they are. Unlike his former-bandmate Jesse Keeler’s MSTRKRFT remix/electro project, Grainger mostly ditches the dance element that seemed to characterize some of DFA 1979’s better moments in favor of even more classic rock riffs, glammy struts, and soaring, power pop melodies. Second track, “Who Do We Care For?” gives us tight, streamlined, fuzzed out riffs that fans of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal would go wild for, all 70s-rock grit and muscle flexed between a hooky chorus. Similarly, “By Cover Of the Night (Fire Fight)” balances heavy, low-end guitar grime with some nice ELO-esque synth work, coming off like a modern version of mid-tempo hits by Boston, Bachman Tuner Overdrive, or Blue Oyster Cult (the three B’s of the 1970s). Elsewhere, “I Hate My Friends” — still fuzzy and over-driven — minces choppy guitar chords that simultaneously give props to the Who, Cheap Trick, and Big Star, before delving into a chorus that is reminiscent of Grainger’s Canadian contemporaries like Broken Social Scene, Stars, or Metric. Other standouts on the album include the restrained, Bowie-underwater ballad of “(Are There Ways) To Come Home?”, and the arena-rock sized “American Names” — with it’s “Born in the USA” keyboards and fist-in-the-air rhythmic pulse. And, just in case we forgot Grainger knew how to rock the dance-floor just as well as he’s proven he can rock the barroom, he delivers an album ending, shit-hot funk jam in “Renegade Silence” — ripe with a “Beat It”-style drum intro, and synth work swiped from either Morris Day and the Time or The Chronic (you get the drift, either way).
Which ever way you look at it — a heavy, 70s-inspired rock record, a poppy, singer/songwriter side-step, or just a hodgepodge of any and all of Grainger’s influences — one thing is for sure: it comes from an honest place…something the Killers could never cop to. — Ryan Allen