Rock propositions don't come much more solid and reliable than Chief, least of all on Domino Records, currently home to quirkier offerings from Lightspeed Champion, Animal Collective and Wild Beasts. But this California-bred, New York University-convened four-piece plant a flag in the middle ground for the label, filling their debut with hummable, tastefully produced folk-rock, shot through with confidence without ever chancing unnecessary risks.
With this approach, Modern Rituals is likely to excite the constituency that rates, say, Doves' meat-and-potatoes anthems above showier exponents of contemporary rock. It finds its pace early, as The Minute I Saw It sets Fleet Foxes harmonies against a fuzzy country stroll and Nothing's Wrong unearths a trace of jangle in FM radio-friendly plodding. Chief claim kinship with baroque rock pioneers of the calibre of Love and The Band, but much of Modern Rituals is closer to giants of platitudinal popular rock: Snow Patrol, Coldplay and, particularly, The Verve. Lead singer Evan Koga is an alarming vocal ringer for Richard Ashcroft, in fact, coating each syllable in meaning and portent. It's not such a bad thing: while Ashcroft is increasingly a figure of fun, his style has a cloak of authority and Koga uses that well.
The counterpoint to Koga's weighty croon is the contribution of singer/guitarist Danny Fujikawa, who helms Irish Song, You Tell Me and This Land. On these tracks, Chief achieve a more intimate ambience, with Fujikawa's reedier voice suited to the sea shanty feel - to draw on Doves again, it's the difference between Jimi Goodwin's controlled bellow and the Williams brothers' nasal tones. Each finds its furrow.
Still, Koga's lead fits the band's signature, guiding the light harmonies on the chiming In the Valley, urging on the expansive workout of single Breaking Walls and piling the sun-kissed metaphors onto Summer's Day. The arrangements are dense and intricate and, together, Chief make an accomplished, purposeful noise - but it's rarely matched by depth of melodic imagination. For a slow-burner, Modern Rituals needs a little more fire.
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