Chagall Guevara’s new album Halcyon Days is a musical and lyrical grab bag, in some ways, practically bursting with a dizzy plethora of voices. Nine songs are far shorter than full-length albums have been for many years and this old-fashioned aesthetic for constructing releases serves Halcyon Days well. There’s no fat on this collection, no wasted motion in its songs. Chagall hasn’t come back after all these years to drop an album full of half-measures and/or self-indulgence. They’ve come back loaded for bear and intend on knock the top of your head off.
That comes across during “Resurrection #9” with all the subtlety of a bulldozer. It’s a little bit of an exaggeration, actually, as Chagall Guevara never attempts bludgeoning listeners into submission. “Resurrection #9”, however, doesn’t find the band reluctant to flex their rock muscle and their rock chops unleashed catch fire. Mike Mead’s drums ride the song’s all-important groove while bassist Wade Jaynes drops in short and complimentary fills along the way.
“Surrender” is one of the album’s handful of great rockers. They come across with swagger for days and sound outright dangerous at some points, like The Rolling Stones with brass knuckles. It’s a romping track that Mead has a field day with as its drummer pounding away with abandon, yes, but with unerring timing as well. You can a little self-conscious effort here to sound modern, but it’s thankfully a comfortable fit for the band.
“A Bullet’s Worth a Thousand Words” has a sort of rumbling menace that gives it a lot of tension. It also has the quality of a balled-up fist, in some respects, and the arrangement sounds like someone hanging back and spoiling for a fight. Guevara brings the fight to listeners at last with an assortment of explosive flourishes that push the song to a higher level. It’s one of the band’s best moments on Halcyon Days.
The title song is among their most ambitious efforts. It doesn’t, however, move the band outside their comfort zone which is far wider than many of the songs might otherwise lead listeners to believe. Drummer Mike Mead and his rhythm section partner Wade Jaynes are the song’s indisputable foundation, however, and make all things possible. The second to last number “I, Madness” is one of Halcyon Days’ lighter moments and feels odd this late in the recording, but it’s an otherwise outstanding song. Matt Wallace’s production proves crucial once again as the track has a sound that comes bounding out of the speakers without sacrificing everything meaningful along the way.
Blues soaked finale “Treasure of the Broken Land” doesn’t lack imagination. Dropping tortured harmonica into key instrumental breaks without ever allowing the popular instrument completely to transform the song and avoiding several other cliches pushes this closer several notches up the ladder. It’s a fantastic way to end the album. These guys sound like they are reinvigorated for several albums as the songwriting juice for Halcyon Days never runs low and studiously avoids much in the way of yay-yay sentimentality.
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