Monday, January 26, 2009

Chavez. Ride the Fader (Matador, 1996)

"There is nothing to not be amazed at."

Chavez were, hands down, one of the most underrated and overlooked bands of the 1990s. There were few groups that decade -- or any decade -- that so successfully married atonal guitar experimentation with fist pumping stadium-ready hooks and chest-thumping anthemic bluster. Chavez were incredibly powerful, melodically and rhythmically, and their two LPs -- 1995's Gone Glimmering and 1996's Ride the Fader (there was an EP in there, as well: Pentagram Ring came out in '95) -- still sound way ahead of their time.

Based out of NYC, Chavez coalesced around former Skunk and Wilder guitar savant Matt Sweeney, whose six string prowess produced thrilling walls of heavily distorted, wildly off-kilter but invariably duck's-ass-tight riffage. Adding to the mix second guitarist Clay Tarver (of Boston's Bullet LaVolta and no slouch), bassist Scott Marshall, and mighty dynamo James Lo behind the kit (seriously, this cat was incredible), Chavez set out to conquer late-Clinton-era indie hearts and minds, armed with a massive sound, an impeccable sense of timing and dynamic interplay, and the ability to switch between subtle tonal approaches and blitzkrieg sonic assaults in a way that toed the line between terrifying and beautiful. Chavez were it.

And if you don't believe me, just listen to anything from their tragically scant catalogue. If you put a gun to my head, I'll say that Ride the Fader is my favorite, but Gone Glimmering is only slightly less epic (check out the remorselessly squalling calling card of Repeat the Ending for starters). The overall approach of both is the same: take hyper loud, overdriven twin guitars helmed by cockeyed masters of the craft, a bass committed to defining the melodies and opening up the musical space, and thunder-god drums that never trade brute force for temporal precision, throw in some AP physics and Cheap Trick, and mix vigorously. The end result is a heady cocktail, noisy but catchy as hell, capable of knocking the wind out of you and plastering a smile on your face at the same time.

Simply put, there's not a bad song on Ride the Fader, just under forty minutes of hair-raising guitar punishment. Nearly every track is a display of riveting technique, as Sweeney (who also handles all vocal duties in his thin, desperate-sounding tenor) and Tarver duke it out over and over, twisting and untwisting melodic lines, keeping the volume pinned to the red, switching lead and solo duties repeatedly, intuitively. Layers and layers of melody and harmonics testify to Chavez's awesomeness, proving time and again how totally on time these guys were.

Top Pocket Man steps to the plate with a curtain of menacingly shimmering chords before things get rad. Listen to how the bass and drums keep everything in check as the guitars go steadily apeshit; here as elsewhere, Lo and Marshall make Chavez possible. The Guard Attacks maintains a psychotic swagger, as the rhythm guitar lines slice and dice with gorgeous serration. Unreal Is Here shows off the band's (slightly) quieter side while still finding time to get ugly and loud. "Tight Around the Jaws," "Our Boys Will Shine Tonight," and especially the pummeling Flight 96 all manage to bludgeon and hypnotize, employing whiplash shifts in tempo and an innate tunefulness to brilliant effect, the ear-catching melodies serving not to relieve the tension but to ratchet it up and up and up until the listener is left gasping for breath.

Amazingly, Matador -- in an uncharacteristically boneheaded maneuver -- actually allowed Chavez's records to fall out of print in the late '90s and early '00s. By 2006, someone over at Matador got wise, and that year the career retrospective Better Days Will Haunt You was released, featuring virtually every song Chavez put out, remastered and repackaged in a lovingly curated two-disc set. Priced for the cost-conscious consumer, this is a must-have item for fans of forward-thinking guitar heroics, as Chavez -- like similarly-minded rockstronauts Polvo -- relentlessly pushed the boundaries while never forgetting to keep things catchy. This is some of the sturdiest music of the last 20 years, so tune in and prepare to be blown away.