Review Summary: It may be on the short side, but Troubador's debut is more than worth your time.
Troubador is a three-piece Californian band introduced to me by a good friend, who himself is a friend of the band. It was through him that I met band member Pat James. I immediately let him know how psyched I was for his band’s work and how much I’d enjoyed it. I let him know my intention to write about it and perhaps spread the word. Troubador’s debut release, Beat Les Troubador, has seen heavy rotation on my iPod since this day. I’m very much into their unique blend of garage rock, lo-fi folk, and surf rock which touches on everything from The White Stripes to The Mountain Goats, and maybe even a little Bob Dylan. Very much the kind of instantly recognizable Americana you’d expect from a trio of sun-baked Californian kids.
Beat Les Troubador is a very brisk experience. At a single second short of twenty-eight minutes, it’s shorter even than the forgivably to-the-point releases from noise rock outfits Metz and Lightning Bolt. These albums weren’t ones to overstay their welcome (although The Hunter is unusually short for a Lightning Bolt album) and they weren’t expected to. Troubador, on the other hand, presents something deep and enjoyable on a level far separated from that of noise rock bands. Not better or worse, mind you, but more emotionally engaging in a way that wishes the album stuck around longer and gave me a little bit more time to get to know it. If you’re going to just throw riffs at me, fine, I will enjoy your riffs and won’t mind when you don’t really take that long doing because what you’re doing is something I’d like to enjoy with a short attention span.
But something emotional? I would prefer to immerse myself in that. Much in the way I immerse myself in Godspeed or anything of that sort. Troubador very much has the songwriting chops to put together some very interesting compositions that grab my attention and make me think about what I’m listening to. Beat Les Troubador runs the gamut of sappy, acoustic, vocally- and lyrically-centric ballads that throw me back into a time when I thought The Mountain Goats were the best thing ever on “Sunday Morning”. Other times the album is assailing me with walls of guitar sound, thick and loud. The song “Ramona” switches gears between waves of reverb and wailing for the titular girl (I can only assume), which instantly reminds me of the heavily blues influenced garage rock of The White Stripes’ career. Specifically White Blood Cells.
It doesn’t help that the singer’s voice sounds exactly like the child of Jack White and John Darnielle would sound like. However, I never felt like this album ever sounded too much like one or the other. Troubador always strikes a delicate balance between folk and garage rock that gives them their own unique presence in the world. Sometimes even combining the two on a single track; example being “West Texas” which combines their loud, rock n’ roll side with the manic emotion of John Darnielle’s style of storytelling and vocal delivery. It’s reminiscent of the few times the Goats let loose (“See America Right,” for instance) but Troubador’s dual-influenced style fleshes this convergence of worlds out to a more satisfying conclusion.
The production is also top-notch on this release. The instruments are crystal clear throughout and the vocals aren’t too loud or too soft. Even when the band is cutting loose and doling out gracious helpings of that lead guitar it’s still not hard to keep track of the other band members. Although for the most part Beat Les Troubador stays somewhere in the middle throughout most of the album, opting for more mid-tempo jams than anything. Regardless of the speed or volume at which these guys are play, though, they sound fantastic.
So go get this album. It’s available for free on their bandcamp. If you like it, keep an eye out for more material. I have it on good authority that the guys are putting their heads together on new material right now. So make sure you get it when it comes out. Give them whatever they want for it.