Album review: TRACER – El Pistolero

Mascot Records [Release date: 06.05.13]

Take one young retro sounding Australian band and send them to Europe to make a splash and build up a following. Sign them to a Dutch label and then record them in LA under the wing of producer Kevin Shirley. The end result is a hybrid of classic rock and grunge with an original lyrical twist.

Tracer is a unique band in the making who push their cross generational influences to the limit. Their material is fuelled by pile driving riffs, forged by Michael Brown’s expressive vocals and realized by colourful imagery that is as vibrant as the music that gives it expression.

While the 2011 official debut album ‘Spaces In Between’ gave them a foothold in the rock market and 2012 brought them a Best New Band award,  ‘El Pistolero’ is a significant step forward on the road to self determination, with better songs and a mighty wall of sound.

The album also marks the recorded debut of new bass player Jett Heysen-Hicks. His imposing rumbling bass adds an extra colour to the band’s sound, while producer Kevin Shirley brings his experience to bear on the band’s natural bluster.

‘El Pistolero’ is conceptually built around a partially realized western film theme. It gradually unravels over the recurring 4-part suit of the title track, including the faux spaghetti western feel of ‘Until The War Is Won’ and the evocative grungy drone of ‘There’s A Man’.

The album opens with the Chickenfoot bombast of the title track and the riff driven, rumbling bass swagger of ‘Lady Killer’. Drummer Andre Wise cuts through the wall of sound with some propulsive rolls on a song with a catchy hook, while the up in the mix vocals and ascending chorus of ‘Dirty Little Secret’ also has commercial pretensions.

‘Dead Garden’ manages to combine the band’s core elements of grunge and stoner rock and by the 3 minute mark slips into a bass led psychedelic jam that makes the most of the ever present quiet/loud dynamic.

The 13 songs are full of dirt sounding, panel beaten rhythms with some tightly wrapped dynamics and droning riffs, all topped by Brown’s ball busting vocals.  Tracer is a band that pours every last drop of emotional input into their collective bluster.  Producer Kevin Shirley nails a great Michael Brown vocal on ‘Santa Cecilia’ while the uplifting bv’s on the ‘take me home’ refrain give the album a noticeable lift.

‘Wolf In Cheap Clothes’ mines a heavy Groundhogs riff on a rumbling monster of a track that pushes Brown vocals to the limit. But it’s with ‘Scream In Silence’ that Tracer really hit base. The song is a wistful ballad with an explosive grungy hook over a brooding percolating groove. The sparkling dynamics, delicately layered sound and Michael Brown signature vocal are the very things that will probably make it a band anthem.

However, having reached a high point, Kevin Shirley can’t resist giving the band an Eastern sounding Zeppelin back drop to ‘Hangman’. It’s an esoteric touch that has served him so well in the past, but it’s a questionable addition to a combo dedicated to searching out their own sound rather than recycling the past. Happily, Michael Brown’s vocal manages to rise above some Sabbath drudgery to transform the arrangement into something all of his own.

‘Manic For Ya’ is a balls out stomp that will undoubtedly become a live favourite while the guitar drenched finale of ‘Now I Ride’ is the kind of expiatory resolution wholly in keeping with the album’s recurring western conceptual imagery: ‘Now Your gone, I see the sun and now I ride.’

If ‘El Pistolero’ isn’t quite the finished article, it’s still an impressive calling card from a band on the way up. **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra


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