Champ de Mars’ newly released studio recording, Rancho Seco Victory, is the band’s first full length collection and the dozen songs included lack any moments of filler. The band is conceived more as a musical collective than a strictly structured outfit, but there are no cracks in their unity of sound and songwriting sensibility. David Bruns exerts an enormous influence over the album’s writing and the emotional gait of the release – it is varied, but invariably eloquent and focused despite its often artsy sound. It’s another road taken in a musical journey for these musicians that began with an earlier incarnation of their sound, Bellstar, a longtime staple of the Northern California live circuit. They may have taken a roundabout way to arrive where they are today, but there’s no question they’ve arrived.
“Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” is an unusual first song for Rancho Seco Victory, especially considering the surprising commercial flavor heard on the album’s later songs. One word you may not hear often used when describing the band’s music is theatrical, but there’s no question Champ de Mars invests their performances with considerable drama. This song derives much of its dramatics from the recording’s sound; it’s expertly produced and the effects never overshadow the core songwriting. “This Machine Kills Fascists” references Woody Guthrie and you can hear it, if you wish, as a modern protest song cast in an alternative indie vibe. There’s a few moments on Rancho Seco Victory where Champ de Mars abandons the idiosyncratic melodic trappings of many album songs in favor of high velocity guitar bite. You’ll notice the difference in sound, but these seemingly disparate approaches are cut from the same cloth.
The band’s indie vibe continues on “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?”, but Champ de Mars crosses it with a jagged punk edge emerging during the chorus. The vocal effects during the chorus are particularly interesting as well and, despite the unusual sound, never go overboard. One of those aforementioned commercial sounding tunes comes with the song “Brothers” and it boasts a great lyric as well. It maintains a moderate pace throughout and pushes steadily on the listener without ever becoming overbearing. Rancho Seco Victory peaks again with “God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” thanks to the dynamic juxtaposition of the sinewy verses and bulldozer riffs after the song’s midway point. The second half is reminiscent of the guitar crunch in “This Machine Kills Fascists”, but the intensity burns much hotter than before.
“Russian River Roulette” and “Nite, Nite Frances” are the final pinnacles for this release. The former song hinges on an ingenious bass riff evolving throughout the course of the tune while the latter has a surprising, even comforting familiarity despite its deceptively simple lyrics. Some of the songs here are greater than others, but you won’t hear any filler. Champ de Mars will go far on the back of this new album release – Rancho Seco Victory is a recording accomplish the musicians and songwriters involved can be proud of for the rest of their days.