Rllrblls moniker may be newthey recently ditched the vowelsbut the band itself has been around for over a decade, biding their time in Portland, OR, and perfecting their own brand of sprawling, experimental, and dub-style rock. The trios latest effort, Murba Mbwa, offers upbeat and sonically complex songs at epic lengths. The result is bold and unapologetic. They havent been listening to The Strokes or anything newfangled like that, and they are clearly not sorry.
The band has been playing for 14 years or so, according to promotional material, and this is no small feat. Led Zeppelin was only around for 12, and Nirvana for seven. Rllrbll has had a substantial amount of time to become seasoned, yes, but also to become set in its ways. Even the Stones had to roll with the times.
To the bands credit, they’re skilled musicians, and the dulcet tones of lead singer Mae Star are piercing and compelling. Ive got to tell you how I feel, she tells the listener on Wah Kitty, right before the music descends into a tight and complex instrumental refrain, and we’re happy to oblige.
Theres plenty thats interesting here, but there are also some aspects that are unconsciously, or unintentionally, stuck in 1997, the year the trio got their start. Quinton features a riff evocative of mid- and late-’90s ska, and rambling tracks like Coffee With Donnie employ a jam-band sensibility that hasnt graced the tops of Best Of lists in years. Artists need a signature sound, yes, but they also need to know when its time to give that sound a little nudge toward musical relevancy.
So, why did a band that otherwise stuck to their guns so thoroughly opt to get rid of the long-standing vowels in their name? Did they do it to appease the impatient Twitter generation? Or was it simply time for a change? Whatever the reason, depending on your personal experience, Murba Mbwa could bring back happy memories of the pre-Bush ’90s or the worst acid flashback of your life.
Essential Tracks: Coffee With Donnie, Wah Kitty, and Quinton