BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Someone needs to have a talk with young bands. We realize all the good names seem to be taken – hell, maybe it was over once Pete Townshend and co. christened themselves The Who. But there’s a trend toward excessive cleverness that’s a major turn-off. It’s not as bad as, say, Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin or I Am the World Trade Center, but Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus still smacks of too much irony in the coffee in the morning. Is the group trying to bring down the wrath of Hollywood lawyers? That’s one way to mount the national stage.
It’s a drag, because despite a ridiculous, off-putting name (seriously – why not just use “Ratgang Malibus?”), this young Swedish quartet has got the goods. Bloom, originally released digitally in 2013, showcases a band already confident in its prowess and abilities. While taking inspiration for that fertile period when rock was evolving past the psychedelia of the ‘60s but hadn’t yet calcified into the arena rock of the ‘70s, the Malibus avoids sounding retro. Powerhouse rockers “Tales of the Future” (which boasts a timeless Stones influence) and the title track come off as fresh and organic in these days of ProTools edits and demographical songsmithery. The epics “IAOA,” “Skin Deep” and “Fernando” flow freely down their conceptual hillsides, taking the time they take instead of stretching out beyond their means. It doesn’t hurt that singer Karl Apelmo has one of those classic rock & roll voices, like Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale if he had the songwriting talent to back up his natural gifts. Bloom is one of the most satisfying rock debuts to come along for some time.
By contrast, Spirit Knife dives headfirst into a vat of acid. Both heavier and trippier, the band’s second record pushes all the elements one might expect from a psych rock band: longer song structures, more profligate guitars (especially in the wah-wah area), more passionate vocals. “Wind Seized,” “Once Levitated” and the monster “Fog By the Swamp” push to the point of being overheated, but maintain equilibrium, in part because of Apelmo’s self-control. More successful are “Clang,” “Point Growth” and the title track, all of which get the blend of taste and ambition just right, and “Deep Hardened Woods,” which scales back the bombast for what sounds like Jeff Buckley fronting an acid folk combo. Best of all, though, may be “Sworn Collision,” which cuts the average track length in half for a much more targeted shot of classic rock. Even at its most convoluted, the band’s strong sense of melody carries it through the haze and into the light. Once a masterpiece is struck, as it surely will be, the Ratgang Malibus will take its place as one of ‘aughties rock & roll’s beacons in the darkness.
DOWNLOAD: “Bloom,” “Skin Deep,” “Sworn Collision,” “Point Growth”