Is it possible to write sunny California-style melodies while living in the extreme urban jungle known as New York City? Californian Bethany Cosentino and her band Best Coast spent some time in New York writing prior to recording their debut album “Crazy For You”, and that seemed to turn out quite well in keeping a surf and sand tone. In a similar fashion, the band Chief features four members who are natives of California, but really didn’t get together and start making music until they were at New York University on the other side of the country. Most of the songs written for the band’s debut album “Modern Rituals” were penned in New York, and part of the album was recorded there as well, before all the guys moved back to Los Angeles last year. The goal might have been to create a record that captures their West Coast energy, but what they’ve done instead is craft something that has the tone and feel of the massive stretch of land in between coasts. It is, in essence, an album for the heartland, with touches of both coasts and everything in the middle.
In terms of overall sound, Chief makes music that sounds immediately familiar. They cite their influences as Neil Young and Tom Petty among others, though they easily transcend the concepts of traditional folk and alt-country. There’s also some good modern-day comparisons in sound to Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, though it’s easy to get the impression that Chief is aiming for a sound that’s even broader and easier on the ears. There are some big melodies on “Modern Rituals” that rival the open space anthems of bands like U2, Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Oasis, though they never quite reach the astronomical levels required to be considered quite in the same league. These are songs best digested while driving down the expanse of an open road, with nothing but the horizon in front of you. It’s the lively sense of adventure and the unknown that really propels them, along with some reasonably decent hooks. And as brimming with life and sheer worldly expanse as these songs are, they’re also not particularly inventive or surprising. Once you’ve taken in the first couple tracks to wrap your head around the sound, everything else falls right in line with expectation and suddenly you’re surrounded by a series of mid-tempo rock songs that are great but can feel a little plain at times.
It’s worth noting that like a number of great bands coming around these days, Chief has populated their debut album with a wealth of vocal harmonies that turn any otherwise average song into a positively gorgeous one. It’s a smart move, and one that makes “Modern Rituals” just barely worth your time and money. If you have friends that aren’t the most adventurous music listeners, introducing them to Chief should be a pretty safe way to push their tastes just a little bit more in the right direction. And who knows? This band definitely has the potential to blow up huge and play some large venues should they get the support required to take them there. Really though, one can only hope that with this debut album Chief evolves and moves into a more experimental and challenging direction for their sophmore effort. With the potential they’ve shown on “Modern Rituals”, they may just become the toast of indie rock in a few years.