Champ de Mars makes no real secret that a significant portion of their album Rancho Seco Victory concerns itself with the current political situation in the United States, but never browbeat listeners with issue-oriented storm the ramparts songwriting. Their political persuasions aren’t difficult to determine or surmise, but Champ de Mars never frames the subjects in such a way they obscure the musical content. “Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” is an example of how much of the project’s songwriting is so singular. No one else would write this tune. It has an audible Radiohead influence, but there’s no question listening to the song they’ve transformed that influence, among others, into something relevant for them.
Despite it being only the band’s first LP, Champ de Mars serves up a master class on how to blend artful and intricately threaded arrangements with top shelf writing that possesses understated literary distinction. The prominence Champ de Mars gives to bass in the album mix elevates some of Rancho Seco Victory’s minor songs like “45”, another tune referring to current world events, a heavy ballast that has a physical effect on listeners. There’s no musical chest beating with Rancho Seco Victory, but this is a collection that grabs a hold of listeners within the first seconds of each track. It’s an intimate sound that, nonetheless, commands your attention.
“Memoriam for the Wall” summons an appropriately melancholy, reflective atmosphere and there’s some exceptional guitar playing unwinding the song’s central melody from first to last. The dialogue between the six string and traditional singing maintains the mood throughout the length of the song and it rates as one of the album’s more thoughtful cuts. There’s a lean focus alternating with a raucous chorus on the album’s fifth song “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?” and it’s another colorful, yet tasteful, guitar driven number with the band’s skillful use of effects to transform the sound making its presence felt.
“God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” is a great example of how Champ de Mars merge textured guitar parts with ominous and crashing bursts of furious riffs. I like how there’s a humorous detachment initially and the lyrics definitely give a sense of the “narrator” observing their surroundings. It’s well matched with a verse arrangement webbed together with the same suggestiveness heard in the best earlier songs and when it careens into jagged guitar thrashing, they flawlessly pull off the transition. “Russian River Roulette”, for me, is the last truly outstanding number on Rancho Seco Victory thanks to its churning drums and improbable bass hook. Champ de Mars stands heads above a lot of similarly slanted acts and the songs on Rancho Seco Victory are clearly the result of a band that’s worked hard to find their own voice. The project’s unusual open-ended configuration, closer to a collective than a traditional band, insures that future releases will enjoy the same variety and depth we hear on the band’s full length debut. What a powerful outing and I get the feeling they’ve only scratched the surface of the project’s potential.