Rancho Seco Victory is one of 2018’s best songwriting efforts and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better rounded collection. Each of the dozen songs contained on the band’s first full length recording touches on each component of the song and devotes great care aimed at polishing the cuts into indelible musical statements. Champ de Mars is spectacularly successful. On most albums, particularly those with a rock pedigree, close listeners can single out a musician or two who deliver the album’s best performances track after track, but Champ de Mars doesn’t feature a single song where any of the musicians involved turn in anything less than inspired playing. The longtime musicians constituting the band’s lineup share a long story with one another, playing as an earlier band called Bellstar, but the new nebulous configuration they employ from song to song and in live performance is the straw stirring the songwriting for this release. It gives a fresh feel to each of Rancho Seco Victory’s tracks.
Despite the freshness, it’s an equally exhausting experience. “Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” is first evidence for Rancho de Mars’ wont towards carefully woven arrangements and the pathos of the vocal doubles down on the mood the musical arrangement clearly wants to create. “This Machine Kills Fascists”, the album’s second entry, shifts gears and edgy guitar riffs pound the listener harder than anything they encounter with the album’s opener. The song title is drawn from words Woody Guthrie painted on one of his acoustic guitars, a now iconic photograph, and reflects the songwriter’s level of engagement with the world we live in today.
Drumming is impressive throughout the whole of Rancho Seco Victory, but few of the songs sport a more aggressive percussive treatment than “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days”?, but it’s equally crucial to bringing off a song with some stark transitions. The move from underplayed verses into a near claustrophobic chorus is one of the most gripping points on this album and rages with spirit we hear in songs like “This Machine Kills Fascists”. “Mono Stereo” is one of the most deliberate, carefully fleshed out musical moments on the album, but it feels quite natural and never inordinately plotted out.
“God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” pushes the envelope even further in a hard rock direction with its insane guitar work later in the song, but the opening part gives us a chance to appreciate the band’s lyric writing in a way not all songs do on Rancho Seco Victory. Two of the most experimental moments, for lack of a better word, on the album come with “Boreal” and the later “Russian River Roulette”. The fatalism of the second song is strengthened by a nervy yet melodic recurring bass riff and has one of the collection’s best singing performances. The former tune is a poetic high point for Rancho Seco Victory, but the poetry is all Champ de Mars’ own and shows how far they’ve taken their influences into new and highly personal areas. This release feels, for these musicians, like a mile marking on their journey to realizing the dreams and promise of their earlier experiences together, but with the added maturity and confidence that comes with time. Highly recommended.