When you hear or read somewhere that an artist recorded his album in his bedroom, you’re probably thinking his songs are “chill-wave,” “lo-fi,” “dreamy,” or something along those lines.RIBS frontman Keith Freund recorded his band’s sophomore EP Russian Blood in his bedroom, but the EP itself sounds like it was produced for a much bigger space, like a ginormous concert hall, or the moon.
According to the band’s local publication The Boston Phoenix, RIBS (the band’s name should be spelled with capital letters only) is “rock’s great new hope.” Music nerds have read the quote everywhere, but what does it mean? Well, it means that the rock age isn’t over yet, and with the existence of a band like RIBS, rock can indeed make its comeback, past today’s hyped indie stardust and “bedroom” tunes. (Keep in mind, though, that by all technical definitions, the band is indie: They are unsigned, self-managed, self-produced.)
RIBS is Keith Freund, Blake Fusilier, Justin Tolan, and Chris Oquist. The four Bostonians have been playing music together for a few years now, having released their first EP, British Brains, in the summer of 2008. The release triggered a bit of social media magic, striking big on the platform Reddit, where users deemed the EP as “fucking awesome,” and “what commercial radio music should be if anyone really gave a shit.”
Considering the band’s public success with British Brains, it was clear that Russian Blood would be a tricky follow-up with lofty expectations.
Russian Blood (released May 29) is signature RIBS, showcasing a broad rock sound with minimal outside help in terms of production. When lining the band’s two EPs up against each other, the old EP hosts five longer tracks, and the new one boasts seven songs with more variation in mood, plot, length, and instrumentation. It is a movement forward. Compared to its predecessor, Russian Blood is a release that’s not as crazy and frustrated; Freund’s writing seems more pensive and emotional. And while the new EP doesn’t really feature a wild and crazy track like the previous EP’s ”Transversal,” it does include two songs with vocals from RIBS bandmate Blake Fusilier, whose voice really adds a lot to the record, sounding something like a young Lenny Kravitz or TV On the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe.
The first highlight on the EP is the single, “Kiss,” a fierce song about a past, failed love that never really evolved or blossomed. Freund sings about a girl with personal problems and relationship issues who “slip[s] away unfazed,” all while he’s trying to ascertain what it all means. The song pushes forward with grinding guitars and fast, pounding drums before it spaces out atmospherically at its ending, where it seems like Freund comes to terms with the present situation: “In a fog / In a dream / You’re in the clouds / You won’t come down / I’m out of touch / We’re out of time / You got your kiss now where’s mine?” The song’s a strong single with a lot of subtle background noises that slowly emerge with more listens.
One positive thing about releasing EPs is that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a long and drawn-out flow that a full-length record usually has. EPs can have more flexibility in terms of presentation. That said, Russian Blood really holds other songs that could serve as singles. “Gateway Drug,” “Alarms,” and “Destructo” are all songs that can stand on their own with catchy, driving refrains.
“Gateway Drug” is the powerful Fusilier written and sung song that somehow manages to incorporate multiple guitar parts, diverse vocals, piano, belting and soulful vocals with a bunch of sexy rock-like “oohs.” Even with a mid-point piano/vocal interlude, the song never really slows down…it just pushes, and pushes, and pushes.
“Alarms” is the EP’s most “popular”-sounding track in terms of its structure, with a basic introduction and focused lyrics that erupt into the signature RIBS swooping and grinding guitars and a thought-provoking chorus. The guitars in “Alarms” sound like they could be synths, but beware: “No synths or keyboards were used in the recording of Russian Blood. All synth-like sounds were created using layered instruments (bass, guitar, vocals) in combination with distortion, delay, reverb, and other effects,” the band says on its press release. “Alarms” can be interpreted as a “man vs. world” song that on the surface talks about today’s world and how, when one does make an effort to make a difference, it can become an overbearing and futile fight.
“Destructo” is the EP’s song that brings a new sound to the mix. Freund revisits the relationship in “Kiss” and gets right into it, going over the sad details of dissatisfaction in the said relationship, looking back and hitting it hard at the song’s hook: “How dare you tell me that I never cared / I wish you’d just say what I want to hear.” The track’s Strokes-like guitar riffs and breathy vocals are what makes it memorable, and both things really come together on the chorus; it’s like Freund has some kind of his own “hit” formula that he applies to songwriting, something like Rivers Cuomo’s Encyclopedia of Pop. Who knows what Freund’s up to in his bedroom while recording (hah), but he must have some kind of writing process that encourages such individually unforgettable songs.
The other EP tracks not yet mentioned are “Mercury,” “This Is Real (Kiss Reprise),” and “I Don’t Think.” All three tracks fit nicely in the EP. “Mercury,” track one, accurately opens the collection of songs for listeners, giving them a taste of the “RIBS” experience with a zoom in/zoom out production. “This Is Real (Kiss Reprise)” flatters the song “Kiss” pleasantly, emphasising the last parts of its mother track and stretching out the most poignant moments. “I Don’t Think” confirms in the listener’s mind that Fusilier can sing some really lovely songs.
To combine all the Reddit reviews in an attempt to sum up the band: If RIBS could somehow be the top-40 radio rock standard that we hold on to today, the world might be a better place.
By chance, but perhaps not, there’s a recent press photo of the band grouped together in Freund’s room, sitting against the wall below a hand-painted quote, “Spread the feeling that our best days are not behind us.”
Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
Yes, really. Go here to find out what SYFFAL stands for…
The Boston Globe has some nice things to say about our upcoming EP and record release show.
Read it here:
Chris Oquist and Keith Freund, the guitar/vocals and drums half of local four-piece RIBS, are coming from somewhere a bit more researched than the average new band.
On a recent night out over drinks in Allston, Freund thinks back on an industry conference panelist’s idea of top-down bands versus bottom-up bands.
“A top-down example was like Destiny’s Child,” says Freund. “They were picked out by a label and forced down to the masses through a huge infrastructure of radio and money. Whereas there was this rapper named Bone Crusher who came up out of Atlanta selling mix tapes out of the back of his car, building it for himself.”
Freund stops to ponder the utility of both models, but Oquist doesn’t need much time to decide.
“I’m pretty sure I’d rather be Destiny’s Child than Bone Crusher,” he says with a shrug.
RIBS, a band with a music business sense incubated at Berklee, has deployed its searingly loud music in small doses so far — a single here and there, basically, since 2010 — and Freund sees each song playing off different sides of that dynamic. He notes that songs like last winter’s “Please Don’t Go” worked like regular publicity angles and garnered great local press, while others like “Queen of Hearts” have taken on viral lives of their own on fan-created YouTube videos and Reddit. It’s a solid analytical approach that they’ve adopted toward their work; but time as a band has also taught them the benefits of loosening up and simply rocking out.
Freund woke up at 2 p.m. on this day, caught in the middle of a mix-down binge of “Russian Blood,” the EP they’re set to release with a show at T.T. the Bear’s on May 25. It’s an epic mix of high octane stuff — post-rock/metal scorchers poured into vaguely pop molds with Billy Corgan levels of immodesty. The band puts on a serious light show onstage — over 55 cables need connecting before every set — and this music was built for it.
RIBS is Freund’s first band, assembled during his last semester in school through band-wanted ads that name-checked stylistic touchstones like Muse and Smashing Pumpkins. He ended up with childhood friend Blake Fusilier, a second guitarist in shredding prodigy Justin Tolan (featured in Guitar Player magazine at age 18), and Oquist, who had been drumming in a black metal band.
Oquist came from the school’s music business department and went about things from that mind-set in the beginning — working out a pro-looking Web presence, booking tours, fiddling with schedules for YouTube teasers. Still, a few years on the circuit helped reveal some new truths. Oquist found himself at Boston’s trend-setting Rethink Music conference last week and started to notice the unfortunate focus of lots of upcoming bands.
“Everyone is looking for a silver bullet,” he said. “What can Foursquare do for me? What does Instragram do? Can I be a Pinterest band?” It all seemed pointless, he decided, if everyone stopped paying attention to their own music. But RIBS comes off like a new-fangled hybrid — taking advantage of a well-resourced background and launching a perfectly haywire creative adventure from there.
“Russian Blood” is thoroughly DIY — mixed at Freund’s apartment, recorded in their practice space — but it carries itself like a really big deal. There are cement-grinding atmospherics out of Trent Reznor’s playbook and canyon banshee wails echoed from long-lost U2 anthems. It’s full of the visceral joys of music — the growl in the bass, the gleefully dissonant guitars; concerns that seem far removed from counting online friends and Twitter followers. There are epileptic moments that threaten to rattle apart at every bolted-down connection, bringing to mind ’90s electro-noisers like Braniac. The song designated as the lead single, “Kiss,” is a totally unruly pummeling from off-centered, fuzzed-out bass, and gut-check drums.
Freund says he’s learned to let go a little bit — after two years and a couple mini-tours and even a concussion suffered during one show’s overexcited guitar swapping. But he’s still a fiend for lists — he can pull them up on his iPhone in seconds: lists for three days before the show (make sure the club has a tech rider), lists for a day before the show (make sure Oquist has drum mallets), lists for sound check (put phone in airplane mode). He has lists for lists, and he isn’t giving them up soon.
“Hey, the lists help me worry less,” he says. “It means I can just go out and play when it’s time.”
Here’s a feature and review of our song “Brains Out” by RockBandAide, a Rock Band video game fan site. Brains Out became available for Rock Band 3 on Xbox 360 last week:
A high-energy slice of rock awesomeness, Brains Out starts out deceptively simple but soon tests the mettle of any band member. Pounding drumbeats, harmonies that hit the stratosphere and a crystal clear guitar riff combine to form a song more than worth a look.
Guitarists will need to be au fait with the mechanics of alt-strumming to truly succeed – there’s an awkward riff that could pose a challenge for those who have mastered the technique. A distortion heavy solo isn’t too difficult but throws the spotlight on the guitarist for a few seconds. Alt-strumming will also come in handy for the chord dominant final sections to the song. This isn’t a guitar focused song but what guitar there is proves satisfying enough. Bass again requires a good deal of alt-strumming but would serve well as a warm-up song.
The kick-pedal skills of your drummer will definitely get a workout (as will the drummer as well) with a rather quick kick-pedal pattern underscoring the main beat. There are no tricky rhythms – just a near constant pounding beat that will have your calf muscles burning at the end. Your arms will also get a fitness wake-up; the stamina-proving ride cymbal tempo is quick enough to build up a sweat.
Vocals and harmonies really shine – the rather odd lyrics juxtaposed with the alt-rock feel to the song lend it a strangely alluring quality. Couple that with an amazing three-part communion of different melodies at the end and you’ve got something that is immediately singable but requires co-ordination aplenty. The lead vocals often jump from low to high in the space of a phrase, so put your strongest vocalist up front for this one.
I’d never heard of the band, album (British Brains) or song before this was released on RBN – evidence of the Aladdin’s Cave of new music that the RBN has turned out to be. For the bargain price of 80 MSP this demands attention!
Sounds like: A dash of Mute Math, a touch of Muse perhaps
Perfect for: Stamina-busting drummers, co-ordinated harmonies
With all the weight of HEALTH’s feedback drenched echo and the black-hearted sounds of The Jesus & Mary Chain its showtime for Boston quartet RIBS (that’s all capital letters to you and I) and their double A side single ‘Locrian Singles’…