Sunday, July 30, 2017

Treble Charger - "Self=Title" CD Review!!

Now is a good time for our 97th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and in honour of their return to the local stage after a 2 year hiatus on Thursday, we're looking at local/Toronto indie punk quartet Treble Charger's second studio album today, amusingly named "Self=Title"! Released through Sonic Unyon Records in 1995 before seeing major-label reissues via RCA & BMG in 1996 & 1997, "Self=Title" was recorded using prize money from a Toronto radio station contest, and was mixed by the band, Jon Auer, and Brian Malouf, with mastering by Joao Carvalho and Ted Jensen. A Juno Award nominee for Best Alternative Album in 1997, the album features the same lineup from their debut "nc17", including singer/guitarists Greig Nori and Bill Priddle, bassist Rosie Martin, and drummer Morris Palter. CD copies of this album can be found at record stores still (mileage will vary), while online copies of the original album are available on services like iTunes and Spotify.

Note that original copies of this CD contain a digital magazine feature spotlighting Canadian indie bands from the mid-1990s, while only major label reissues feature the album's final two tracks. We will review all songs from the latter, but we won't review the "screen zine" content, which I'd treat as a bonus given that it's about other bands, but if you have the right copy and computer, it's worth a look. Also, song names below are linked to YouTube copies of the album, but support the band and buy this album if you haven't already! Featuring 9 songs running for 32 minutes in length, let's begin our review of "Self=Title"!

This CD begins with it's two singles (each of which receiving a music video), with the first song being "Morale", whose lyrics seem to allude to trying to stay positive with or without a friend's input. Peaking at #16 on the Canadian Alternative Rock charts, this song has a Weezer-esque feel at times, with a stop-start guitar melody, dream-like singing from Greig, and a catchy rhythm! Though not at their later pop-punk base yet, the song has glimmers of a musical edge to come, and it's a fine opener for their sophomore release! That's followed by lead single "Even Grable", which peaked at #6 on the same chart, their second best result there to date. Lyrically referencing a conversation with a departing and angry lover, some distorted guitar work and solid drums kick off this song, which has a nice full sound and pointed yet melodic singing, though the vocal harmonization late can sound a little muddled. Distinctive yet familiar song overall, Treble Charger's development is clear as this one progresses!

The softer "Case In Fact" comes third on the album, which honestly feels like a direct sequel to "Even Grable", as Greig rhetorically talks to the same loved one about the relationship's end & path forward. This song would be an ideal fit for acoustic concerts, with only the chorus showing more of a plugged in base, and while I lean more towards their more "rocking" songs, this is a pleasant track with mature lyrics! The choruses seem to lose a bit of the verses' focus, but if you like Treble Charger's early indie material, this will be right up your alley! Fourth is "Cleric's Hip", which falls just shy of 2 minutes, making it the shortest song on "Self=Title". Seemingly a continuation where a response from her is now waited upon, this song is arguably the most punk-like piece yet on this album, with more of a grungy bite to the riffs, though Greig's singing is still hushed and softer, and occasionally hard to hear until the final 30 seconds or so. It's an entertaining track, but it ends before it really gets started (and no word on if the sampled caller at the beginning got his peanut M&Ms!)

The fifth song is "Sick Friend Called", though the lyrics allude more to the drive to see said friend than anything (if that's how you take it.) Structurally similar in many respects to modern day indie rock songs, this one has a very well done chorus that melodically soars, contrasting well with the quiet and reserved verses, and Greig and Bill contrast well on guitar here, with Rosie's bass work a highlight on the bridge & closing chorus, so fans of their original sound should take to this one easily, despite an abrupt ending! Then we have "Motor Control", which seems to speak of reconciliation and apologies for past behaviour. Oddly beginning with a 17 second instrumental prologue before the song proper begins, this mid-tempo song plays to their musical strengths, and Morris shines on drums, but the singing lacks some emotion compared to earlier numbers, and the lyrics could have been fleshed out a little more. Solid indie rocker all the same!

Original copies of "Self=Title" ended with "Slight", which runs for nearly 5 minutes, the longest on any version of the album. Seemingly coming back to a relationship understanding in the album's lyrical arc, this song is another one that fans of Treble Charger's later punk sound may enjoy more, based on the fuller and more rocking choruses, though it retains their indie melodies and mature themes, plus a siren-esque audio sample and some "ooooo" vocalizations. That said, the second half of the song gives way to background noise, feedback, and a mild instrumental coda, which I wasn't too high on, it just came across like filler. While it lasted though, the song worked and felt like a bridge of eras! If you own a major label reissue of this CD, these final two songs will round out the track listing, starting with "Disclaimer", whose lyrics involve one warning someone about their past actions and choices of words, not to say they fully understand.

As far as I can gather, Bill handles lead vocals on this song, which is a very reserved and folksy number that fans of his later solo work will be familiar with. The backing "eeeee" vocals here are not my cup of tea, but it's a well performed song that would also fit nicely in an unplugged setting, though it probably won't be a top pick for fans of their later punk albums. Lastly is "Half Down", which seems to paint dissatisfaction and giving up on someone in the context of performing music. A deliberately paced ballad with some interesting effects (including phone call-esque singing from Greig), this is another solid performance within their early indie rock wheelhouse!

So, what are my final thoughts on Treble Charger's sophomore album? Overall, I will say that it's a natural follow-up to the previous year's "nc17", and it seemed to be a tighter pound-for-pound release, focusing on fewer and generally shorter songs, but also ones that showcased more of their instrumental talents and lyrical maturity, and intentional or not, a concept about a failing relationship and reconciliation permeates through the original 7 songs. Greig Nori and Bill Priddle remain a solid match on guitar, with Rosie Martin an understated but effective presence on bass, and Morris Palter kept pace well on drums, while Greig's vocals tended to be clearer and more consistent than on their debut! At the same time, he wasn't projecting his range at more familiar levels yet, but the singing tends to fit these songs, which showed some more hints of their punk sound to come, like on "Morale" and "Cleric's Hip". AllMusic criticized this album for sounding rushed and unfinished, and while some songs do have abrupt endings & short lyrical passages, "Self=Title" stands on it's own merits!

I still prefer their later punk sound, but Treble Charger delivered a quality sequel that fans of their early sound should eat up, so buy or stream it at the above links! Remember, the last two songs are only officially on the CD reissues, and are not featured on "Self=Title" copies on streaming services. I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's coming up on the site next month? At this juncture, I again don't know, but here's what I can tell you. A new album would of course be our first choice, but if nothing comes out, an archive metal, hard rock, or punk album would be next, as usual. Treble Charger and SweetKenny are out of next month's running due to our 6 month anti-bias buffer between reviews of the same band, but there are many other options. As I like to tie in reviews where possible to artists playing live that same month, two heavy possibilities are The Bear Hunters' "Collapse The Sun" single (as they are playing live next month) and Haggith's "Apocalypse II" (given August dates from successor bands Eclipse & The Din), but nothing's official yet, and a new CD would take precedence.

Stay tuned in any event for our 98th monthly CD review at some point in August, and look for a new news post by Monday morning! Thanks everyone!

No comments: