The Rapture and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sunday, April 18

Calling punk an attitude has become an MTV-generation cliché. It's used as a postmortem tribute to a musician's rebelliousness: Johnny Cash, yo, that guy was punk. But there's more resonance, now, in punk as an attitude than in its descriptiveness of a sound or a scene -- if you accept that Good Charlotte is a standard-bearer of the mosh-pit set, well, then, the sound of punk has become disconnected entirely from what it used to mean.

But the attitude remains. And as far as that goes, the Rapture is the punkest thing going right now. Yes, there's plenty of punk to their highly and too-long-anticipated LP Echoes-- Gang of Four-style, notably, and nowhere more so than on the Rapture's breakthrough song, the cowbell masterpiece "House of Jealous Lovers." You'd never mosh to that song or any other on Echoes, however, and that's what makes the record so groundbreaking. The Rapture has redeemed the four-on-the-floor electronic dance beat for rock -- and if Echoes doesn't get your ass shaking, buddy, your ass is broken.

And yet…the beats may be primal to the Rapture's shake-it-or-else musical strategy, but it's the rock energy that carries the day. It lives in the drums, guitar and bass hooks and front man Luke Jenner's balls-to-the-wall vocals. The band layers one rock influence on top of another -- the arty romanticism of the Cure, Joy Division's apocalyptic leanings, Television's urbane postpunk -- and the techno stuff merely insinuates itself. Rock music hasn't been made for dancing in a long time, and the idea is catching a wave; what makes the Rapture stand out among the bands working its turf is its passion. Echoes is less an album of aesthetics than one of feeling, the kind of feeling both dance and music were invented early in civilization to express. And passion, after all, is just a synonym for punk.

Passion equals punk when the Rapture descends on Houston.
Passion equals punk when the Rapture descends on Houston.

Despite the Rapture's nascent reputation as a studio band -- one of those outfits more finicky about recording gear than, say, personal grooming -- it can't be emphasized enough that much of what makes the band special is its zealousness about playing live. Bassist Matt Safer notes that much of the "spontaneity" audible in the music on Echoes comes out of the fact that most of the songs were designed to be performed and were tested and refined in front of live audiences.

Much the same could be said of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Like California peers the Warlocks and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, BRMC always puts on a good performance, even if the band members appear quite shy on stage, content to let their music speak for them.

Riding high on the relative success of last year's Take Them On, On Your Own, BRMC is a back-to-basics band that relies heavily on its British influences. Compared to the Jesus and Mary Chain until they probably believe they are the brothers Reid, BRMC's Peter Hayes, Robert Turner and Nick Jago take the best of all that feedback and distortion and add a special hint of doom and gloom to create songs their influences wish they could still churn out. With haunting melodies and hard-edged rhythms, the band plays a brand of music that, sure, you've heard before, but never done quite this way. Or this well.

 
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