Treble Charger CD, in honour of their big show at The Machine Shop earlier this month! We're going in chronological order by starting with their debut album "nc17" (also their original name), which was independently released on July 4th, 1994 through the band's own independent Smokin' Worm Records label, though Sonic Unyon Records reissued it in 1997. Co-produced by the band and Rob Sanzo with mastering by Joao Carvalho, "nc17" features Treble Charger's original lineup, including current members Greig Nori on lead vocals & guitar, and guitarist Bill Priddle, alongside ex-members Rosie Martin on bass and Morris Palter on drums.
"nc17" appears to be out of print nowadays, and it oddly isn't available to buy on iTunes, but limited physical quantities are available on Amazon and other sites, but be cautious of prices. If you want to stream it, this album is available on Grooveshark and YouTube, with titles below linked from the latter. Also, note that this review is not of their "nc-17" demo tape which preceded the full album, featured 6 of the final tracks, and included the axed "Barcelona Chair", but that's a review possibility for the future if we obtain it in some form. Featurign 11 songs lasting for almost an hour, let's begin our first ever Treble Charger CD review!
"10th Grade Love", which was a single from the album, complete with music video. It immediately begins with a mid-paced indie rock sound that will differ from their later punk sound, but shows more maturity in it's lyrics, which seem to be about reminiscing and rooting for a former high school girlfriend. The song has a dream-like floaty quality that never gets aggressive, but keeps a constant stream of nice melodies, with Greig's vocals flowing with the mood well, and his & Bill's guitar work contrast nicely! It's not similar to their later work, but it's a good indie rock number! Second is "In Your Way", with themes about negatively reflecting on the past, but not being able to change it. A driving rock number than it's predecessor, and with a more varied song structure, the verses are sung in more of a minimal setting, but they have more of that 1990s alt-rock ambiance, and the last chunk has a nice stop-start edge to it! Morris' drumming fits this song a lot better, adding to an improvement on the first song!
Next up is "Trinity Bellwoods", which seems to have lyrical themes about relationships and meeting people. Continuing the feel of "In Your Way" with louder instrumentation and softer reserved vocals, this song comes the closest yet to punk in style, but still has introspective lyrics and a strong passion to fit their early work! The melodic guitar riffs are solid for the genre, but the chorus structure doesn't compliment the verses that well, and Greig's vocals are sometimes a little buried in the mix. Good song though, and it's a good showcase of their early sound! Then we have "Dress", with the title referencing being caught wearing a dress, and the fallout of that. A melodic, straightforward indie rocker, this song has a flowing consistency and pleasant melody, but the lyrics are sometimes hard to decipher through the music, which is otherwise well performed. I like Bill & Rosie's performances here, and the song's never boring, but it doesn't have the alternative edge of it's predecessors.
"Cubicle", which seems to be about frustration with one's desk job, which definitely contrasts with the upbeat opening tempo of this song and pleasant overall tone. Bill's lead guitar shines, especially with his solo of sorts late, and it's a strongly written number, but it's another example of a song with vocals that are too soft and quiet to be easily heard over the music. To me, this is the best musical showcase for the guys so far, and you do sense their chemistry well even at this early stage, but it'd help if Greig's singing was louder. That's followed by the album's shortest song "Popcorn Chicken", which is the album's shortest song and only instrumental, so don't look for KFC references in it. Starting with brief live audio before transferring to studio recordings, this is mostly a solo guitar showcase, but less a guitar solo and more of a slow 97-second guitar feedback section. It's listenable, but there's not that much to say about it.
The seventh track (and arguably the most familiar) is "Red", which achieved greater success via it's 1997 re-recording for their third album "Maybe It's Me". Also receiving it's own music video, this song seems to bear lyrical similarities to "10th Grade Love", but it's much more of an acoustic indie rocker, dropping dreamlike instrumentation for a folksy alternative sound. Nice clear vocals and a determined sound help here, despite not being among the most "rocking" songs on "nc17". This song definitely would fit well in acoustic settings, and it's seriousness and strong lyrics make it my favourite of the softer songs so far! For reference, this version of "Red" is longer and has more lyrics than the re-recording, but is largely similar.
"Soaker", which seems to be about expressing one's feelings to someone, but trying not to hear what they have to say. Probably the closest example yet to an indie punk sound (Northwest fans may be at home here), the up-tempo sound and strong melodic guitar riffs are welcome to hear, but the vocals are again hard to hear, partly this time due to being cleanly sung over loud punk-tinged instrumentation. I like the drumming here, the use of feedback adds an extra spark, and everything comes together well musically, but the quietness of the vocals is ever present. Ninth is "Deception Made Simple", whose lyrics seem to reflect attempts to find greater understanding in a relationship. A slower rocker that has more of a deliberate sound, I like the harmonized chorus vocals and general volume of the singing, and Greig & Bill handle the guitars nicely on this track, but the downbeat vocals do contrast from the lighter instrumentation, especially in the pre-chorus bridges.
Second-last on "nc17" is "Pilot Light", seemingly about persistence from someone trying to drag one down. An even slower and darker track with drawn out melodies and a focused sensibility, Greig's vocals are pointed and impassioned, and the song does find the right notes to hit, but fans of the more upbeat rockers on this album will probably not like this song as much. I enjoy it for what it is, and it has a good message and strong performances from all four guys, but I do prefer their faster alternative material from this era. This will be a good listen for fans of "Soaker", as it has that power-pop/indie sound that the guys did well in the mid 1990s, but it's not as full sounding as many of their preceding songs. Is it wrong to say this track especially reminds me of older Weezer material? Not a bad closer to a solid debut album overall, and everything gels late!
Note that the listed 19 minute long "Hint" only itself runs for 5:08, there's some hidden gems if you listen through. 10 minutes in, you'll get what sounds like the guys playing a warning siren, followed by an extended ambient section 12 minutes in that runs for about 6 minutes. Neither are that substantive on their own, and the ambient portion gets to be very dry very fast, but they're nice bonuses!
So, what are my final thoughts on Treble Charger's first album? Overall, "nc17" is a strong first effort that shows off their early sound well, and if anything, it is underappreciated now! I do concede that I grew up with and like their later punk material better (i.e. "American Psycho", "Hundred Million"), but if you like 1990s alternative and indie rock, this was a good starting point for them, and on tracks like "Soaker" & "Trinity Bellwoods", there are punk tinges! Treble Charger have always been a talented band, and both Greig Nori & Bill Priddle showed that with mature lyrics and strong guitar compositions, while Rosie Martin delivered solid bass throughout, and Morris Palter delivered nice drumming overall too! One recurring drawback was the mix and clarity of Greig's vocals, which were generally low and sometimes hard to decipher, but his voice improved in range and volume on later albums. It's a little odd that "nc17" is so hard to find nowadays, but it was a solid starting point for their discography, and it's worth checking out for fans of their early work and 1990s indie rock!
I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, and yes, we will return to new local album reviews next month! In all likelihood, we'll be looking at Telephone & Address' newest album "Rust Orchid" (which was released last month, but we'll be past our 6 month buffer period in March), but that may be subject to change if anything else is released. Given that they have a CD release concert next month, that would be a logical timeframe, but we'll let you know if anything changes! That's all for now, but stay tuned for more news, weekend concert previews, and this month's Saultites In Out Of Town Bands Profile in the coming days! Thanks everyone!