Melody Maker

In their latest release, titled Halloween Leaves, alternative rockers Champ de Mars are set to explore instrumental complexities as a means of making a narrative even more impulsive and penetrative than the standard typically allows, and to me, it’s worth more than a close look. Though tempered by a controlled approach to songs like “Wedding Dresses and Fancy Watches,” “Little Blue Lines,” “Benders in the Basement” and my personal favorite “Kids,” Halloween Leaves is nonetheless quite the dynamic, forward-thinking LP that doesn’t push pop pleasantries in front of raw versatility. This is very much an identity album and one that I would recommend to indie buffs everywhere this April.

There’s a lot of meat in this record, and in the case of “Leaves in Fall” or “Porch Apologies,” it’s responsible for defining the bulk of the tone perhaps even more than the lyrics are. While lyrical integrity is something that Champ de Mars has never pulled punches about, they don’t have a problem putting all of their energy into pummeling tenacity where it counts the most in Halloween Leaves, which is more than I can say for some of their closest competitors in the mainstream market right now. Indulgence has its place in pop music, but this crew doesn’t require its presence to sound theatrical and on-point here.

The implied discordance between the guitar and the percussion in “Leaves in Spring” is only made more intriguing by the introduction of a gentle arrangement, and this exemplifies the kind of experimentation I want to hear more of from Champ de Mars. There’s a triangulated feel to the way the harmonies unfold in this particular track that I haven’t been able to get enough of since first getting into Halloween Leaves ahead of its official release, and given its rarity, I see other rock aficionados sharing my enthusiasm.

Despite the implied tension in the tracklist as we move from the likes of “Wedding Dresses and Fancy Watches” into slightly more complicated territories ala “Monsters in the Kitchen,” “Leaves in Winter” and the aforementioned “Porch Apologies,” nothing here feels overly stripped-down to fit the overall theme of efficiency. Instead of adopting conservative stylizations to fit into the concept they were shooting for in this album, Champ de Mars is simply stuffing their aesthetics into a box and letting all of the angular elements stick out. It’s rather abrasive on paper, but in practice, I think it’s allowing them to sound a lot more relaxed and connected with the medium.

Halloween Leaves is a great look for Champ de Mars, and I believe it will likely be regarded as the best set of original songs they could have given us for widespread release thus far.

There’s a whole lot of 2024 left, but if this is to be the tone-setting indie release of the year, I would say we’re in for some really quality content in the next eight months or so. Champ de Mars has earned a place in the headlines here, and I don’t think I’ll be the only one who thinks so.

Chadwick Easton


Indie rock is an identity and one that has to be portrayed with a demeanor more indicative of humility than exaggerated confidence. While I don’t know that it’s fair to say that Champ de Mars are chasing their version of this identity solely to be true to form in their new album Halloween Leaves, there’s something both unique and definitively classic about what’s driving their sound in this latest release. In songs like “Monsters in the Kitchen” and “Upside Down World,” Champ de Mars begin to reveal parts of themselves through both the music and the lyrics that simply weren’t accessible to us previously, all the while making a point of leaving the audience unsheltered from the sonic carnage entirely.


“Leaves in Spring” and “Benders in the Basement” do indeed wade into alternative waters akin to something from the old guard, but even with this being the case, the energy behind the music feels very modern and, dare I say, a bit angry in this situation. This band is meant to be on the road, and their restlessness is perhaps what gives this LP so much edge.

“Leaves in Winter” and “Little Blue Lines” simply wouldn’t be the same without the presence of their guitar parts, and had the six-string been replaced with anything else, I just don’t know if these songs would hold the same meaning. There’s a pop sensibility to the vocal in “Porch Apologies” and “Wedding Dresses and Fancy Watches” that I want Champ de Mars to try and expand upon more than they have, and in some ways, I think they show off a bit more courage in their creativity just by including these two songs here. The former could be a keystone single here, while the latter could easily join it in such a capacity, and though they’re no more powerful than any of the other tracks in this LP are, they certainly don’t hide the priorities this crew has right now. They want to stay raw through the rhythm, even if it means sacrificing some element of commercial acceptability.


Conceptual and respectful of its predecessors but still demonstrating that this band can step outside of the box, Halloween Leaves is as evocative as its title would imply. Champ de Mars still have room to continue growing as a band but tracks like “Leaves in Spring,” “Leaves in Fall,” “Leaves in Winter,” and “Monsters in the Kitchen” show them owning a signature persona no one else can claim as their own. It’s hard trying to distinguish yourself and your sound from that of the many other talented groups in the international underground these days, but after a lot of years hard at work both inside of the recording studio and up on the stage, Champ de Mars has something that no one else can take from them, and it’s available in eleven distinct movements via Halloween Leaves this April. From what I can tell, this isn’t going to be their last release of note at all.

Mark Druery

Hollywood Digest

"Anyone can cut a decent pop record, but to make something this aesthetically provocative – and rock-inspired – in 2024 is worth marveling at."

Inside just a few seconds, Champ de Mars converts a simple swing into something that feels downright revolutionary in the opening bars of their new song “Leaves in Fall,” but as we listen on in its parent album Halloween Leaves, the thrills and chills this track provides aren’t an isolated encounter. Champ de Mars isn’t looking to swing exclusively in this latest release; as proven by the superb “Wedding Dresses and Fancy Watches” and subtle delight “Little Blue Lines,” darkness-tinged pop is the real object of this band’s affection right now. Instead of presenting their surreal tendencies in the same way a lot of their indie peers might have this April, they’re allowing for it to be a mere adornment in Halloween Leaves – the real focal point here is the chemistry of the players. 

If we take the song apart and examine its nuts and bolts, “Benders in the Basement” is one of the more melancholic and stunningly personal pieces of material Champ de Mars have branded with their moniker to date. “Monsters in the Kitchen” offers whiplash by comparison, twisting us away from the vulnerabilities of its predecessor with a harmony straight out of another time in indie pop history. There’s no predicting the eroticisms that soon follow in “Leaves in Winter,” but by the time we reach this point in the tracklist, it’s obvious that keeping us guessing on the edge of our seats is half the fun for these guys.

Anyone can cut a decent pop record, but to make something this aesthetically provocative – and rock-inspired – in 2024 is worth marveling at. “Upside Down World” boasts the sort of assertive guitar part that makes you want to get out of bed early just to race the first few rays of a new day, and best of all, none of its optimism feels forced or even somewhat inorganic which is a bit of a feat coming out of the dark cloud that proceeded this scene’s most recent output. I’ve heard so many different bands drifting further down the rabbit hole in the past year mostly because of their lack of touring, but it seems like surreal culture might have done Champ de Mars a couple of favors in tracks like this one or the hard-hitting potential single “Porch Apologies.” They’re not overthinking anything in this LP, but instead letting the magic flow freely. 


Halloween Leaves concludes with a stacked arrangement in “Leaves in Spring” that initially feels a little out of place in this cut-and-dry pop/rock effort, but soon enough, it caps things off with an appropriate dose of clandestine melodic charm. Whether this is your first time listening to Champ de Mars or you’ve been into their music for a minute now, Halloween Leaves is an album that will pull you in close to let go of some of its composers’ deepest secrets. There’s a feeling of exposed emotion and boundless passion behind every one of its beats, and for my money, it’s one of the most uncompromisingly full-bodied outings of its kind to debut in the last few months. 

Garth Thomas

"one of the hotter indie rock sets of 2024"

Cutting into the central harmony that supplies “Leaves in Winter” with its greatest vitality, a brisk but boldly colorful lead vocal is here to tie every eccentric element in Champ de Mars’s sound together. This isn’t the first time the band has delivered something ambitious in subtle packaging, but while the anticipation leading up to their most recent studio offering Halloween Leaves has been considerable, they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew in its eleven songs at all. Champ de Mars is manifesting their destiny in this record, and it all starts with giving us everything with maximum strength. 

Although steeped in a lot of cryptic lyricism, Halloween Leaves’ “Upside Down World,” “Porch Apologies” and “Leaves in Fall” make it clear that this band wanted to give us a solid guitar album this spring. There’s simply too much love for the string play and, even without any serious virtuosity, the mathematics of the material here for me to draw any other conclusion. Whether it be the percussion, the bassline, or a fleeting piano in “Leaves in Spring,” the guitar is a constant shadow in this LP, stalking us with its harmonies and eagerly hinting at a greater sense of emotionality incomprehensible through the absorption of linguistics alone. 

I love the beefiness of “Monsters in the Kitchen,” “Leaves in Fall” and even “Upside Down World,” and when matched up with the way “Benders in the Basement” and “Wedding Dresses and Fancy Watches” were mixed, we start to get a pretty good idea of what Champ de Mars would like to sound like on the live stage. Despite the glow of the verses in “Leaves in Winter,” a rock mentality keeps the audience somewhat separate from the artist crooning behind the mic, and it’s in this field of separation that we feel just how much intimacy exists in the instrumentation separates from any words. The poetic value is stronger sonically than one might expect, which suggests a live performance for the ages in the band’s future. 

Honestly, I would particularly like to hear the single “Porch Apologies” in concert a lot sooner than later primarily to get some juxtaposition between the studio and stage versions of the song. My gut tells me that Champ de Mars isn’t going to hold back from getting a little experimental with the general boundaries of this content when they’ve got the right venue to do so, and I think this could be the best track here in early incarnations of such a scenario. 

I’ve been following the work of Champ de Mars this year, and I must say that they’ve yet to disappoint me when it comes to putting together a complete, engaging full-length studio album from scratch. Halloween Leaves doesn’t shake the floorboards with its volume or crush us with a lot of boisterous guitar solos, but its insistent presence is nevertheless a dominating force to be reckoned with even in the poppy moments within the tracklist such as those in “Benders in the Basement,” “Little Blue Lines,” and “Leaves in Spring”. All in all, Champ de Mars should be credited with dropping one of the hotter indie rock sets of 2024.

Michael Rand

...songwriting for intelligent music fans who still embrace guitar fueled music.”

— No Depression



"One of the best alternative rock efforts with a singer/songwriter slant released in recent memory" Scope Mag Sept. 2018

Virginia based Champ de Mars’ first full length release Rancho Seco Victory, literally translated as Dry Ranch Victory, is one of the best alternative rock efforts with a singer/songwriter slant released in recent memory. The project’s first studio release, 2016’s Back from the West EP, actually represented the first chapter in an ongoing musical journey. The evolution towards Champ de Mars began in the late 1990’s with the Northern Californian band Bellstar, a nine year mainstay in the Sacramento/San Francisco music scene. Champ de Mars is, essentially, a reconstituted version of Bellstarwith an open door policy encouraging musicians to come and go as they please and pursuing a musical vision all its own. Centered on David Bruns’ songwriting creativity, Bruns is a published novelist as well and a prodigious blogger on the band’s website and his skills bring depth and a literary tenor to the songs lacking in many contemporary acts.

Much of the songwriting has a hazy sound and perhaps one of the more cinematically defined tracks on the album is its opener “Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter”. The improbable title serves notice alone that David Bruns and his band mate collaborators for this track aren’t interested in satisfying your preconceived notions of what popular music can accomplish. There’s no question Radiohead has a strong pull on their musical imagination, but Bruns is a far better singer than Thom Yorke with an aching streak coloring his voice in nearly every cut. “This Machine Kills Fascists” is one of the band’s more overt stabs at songs with a social conscience of some kind, but Bruns and company never write or perform literal political songs but, instead, artful invocations and reflections on our world today. It, likewise, introduces a much rougher sound for the band that’s closer to outright guitar rock without ever coming off like a cliché.

Their penchant for dissonant textures mixes with the straight forward rock leanings of Champ de Mars during the song “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?” It may sound like a rather unwieldy title, but this crying out for solidarity with other beautiful oddballs has an uniquely layered, trippy sound during the chorus. It’s one of the best songs on Rancho Seco Victory. “Brothers” has a handful of interesting tempo shifts, primarily clustered during the song’s second half, but the bulk of the tune finds its mark as a forceful, yet moderately paced, indie alternative rocker. Acoustic guitar makes a memorable appearance in the song “Russian River Roulette”, but it isn’t your customary folky sound singer/songwriter track. Instead, a strong drumming pulse cuts against the acoustic jangle and the band’s typical array of post production effects gives the song a taste all its own. Champ de Mars close Rancho Seco Victory with the tight lines and atmospheric arrangement powering “Nite, Nite Frances” and it’s a powerful final curtain for an album defying virtually every expectation you could have come with into hearing this album. This is a release for anyone who appreciates songwriting with emotional depth and cutting intelligence.


Gwen Waggoner

Vents Magazine Review, September 2018

Champ de Mars’ newly released studio recording, Rancho Seco Victory, is the band’s first full length collection and the dozen songs included lack any moments of filler. The band is conceived more as a musical collective than a strictly structured outfit, but there are no cracks in their unity of sound and songwriting sensibility. David Bruns exerts an enormous influence over the album’s writing and the emotional gait of the release – it is varied, but invariably eloquent and focused despite its often artsy sound. It’s another road taken in a musical journey for these musicians that began with an earlier incarnation of their sound, Bellstar, a longtime staple of the Northern California live circuit. They may have taken a roundabout way to arrive where they are today, but there’s no question they’ve arrived.

“Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” is an unusual first song for Rancho Seco Victory, especially considering the surprising commercial flavor heard on the album’s later songs. One word you may not hear often used when describing the band’s music is theatrical, but there’s no question Champ de Mars invests their performances with considerable drama. This song derives much of its dramatics from the recording’s sound; it’s expertly produced and the effects never overshadow the core songwriting. “This Machine Kills Fascists” references Woody Guthrie and you can hear it, if you wish, as a modern protest song cast in an alternative indie vibe. There’s a few moments on Rancho Seco Victory where Champ de Mars abandons the idiosyncratic melodic trappings of many album songs in favor of high velocity guitar bite. You’ll notice the difference in sound, but these seemingly disparate approaches are cut from the same cloth.

The band’s indie vibe continues on “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?”, but Champ de Mars crosses it with a jagged punk edge emerging during the chorus. The vocal effects during the chorus are particularly interesting as well and, despite the unusual sound, never go overboard. One of those aforementioned commercial sounding tunes comes with the song “Brothers” and it boasts a great lyric as well. It maintains a moderate pace throughout and pushes steadily on the listener without ever becoming overbearing. Rancho Seco Victory peaks again with “God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” thanks to the dynamic juxtaposition of the sinewy verses and bulldozer riffs after the song’s midway point. The second half is reminiscent of the guitar crunch in “This Machine Kills Fascists”, but the intensity burns much hotter than before.

“Russian River Roulette” and “Nite, Nite Frances” are the final pinnacles for this release. The former song hinges on an ingenious bass riff evolving throughout the course of the tune while the latter has a surprising, even comforting familiarity despite its deceptively simple lyrics. Some of the songs here are greater than others, but you won’t hear any filler. Champ de Mars will go far on the back of this new album release – Rancho Seco Victory is a recording accomplish the musicians and songwriters involved can be proud of for the rest of their days. of 2018’s best songwriting efforts ...”


Gashouse September 2018 

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.

"Nomination: Album of the Year" from Review 

“Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” opens Champ de Mars’ first full length studio album Rancho Seco Victory. In a bit of evocative misdirection setting a tone for everything following, the first track kicks off with moody sonic misdirection before settling into an airy, melancholy groove. The offbeat nature of the song reflected in its title comes through the arrangement and lyrical content as well. Elongated guitar melodies weave around lyrical flourishes of piano and the reflective qualities of David Bruns’ lead vocal. His gossamer light touch as singing helps give a dreamlike, incantatory flavor to this number. The band’s songwriting quotes Woody Guthrie’s famous bit of guitar graffiti with the second track “This Machine Kills Fascists”. Champ de Mars dispenses with the cumulative effects achieved by the opener in favor of a whiplash guitar riff crackling with immediacy. If Bruns and his band mates are looking to make vital music of the moment, a sort of songwriting call to arms, “This Machine Kills Fascists” is a knockout success.

The fat, relentless bass and percussion driving the brisk tempo of “45” is ornamented by guitar’s sharp accent. Alternating between terse rhythm lines and slightly dissonant rhythm flourishes, the song has a satisfying pay off with its bridge and the woozy glide of Bruns’ voice strikes a notable contrast with the arrangement. It ends on an emphatic note. “Memoriam for the Wall” is another composition conjuring the specter of current events for listeners; in this case the issue of a border wall between the United States and Mexico, but Champ de Mars plumbs the subject matter in an idiosyncratic manner and with a considered, deliberate pace.

We’re treated to another brief low-fi quasi-ambient introduction at the start of “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?”The mid-tempo jaunt of the verses segues into a cawing, sarcastic quality coming through during the chorus as post-production effects distort the vocal into a near whine. Despite the project’s avowed influences, it’s impossible to hear this song and deny Champ de Mars has transmuted from those touchstones what has any value and found their own voice. There’s some assertive lead guitar laced through this song as well, but it never seeks the spotlight.

“Mono Stereo” shows off another side of Champ de Mars’ musical personality as they embrace what we might call a piano ballad. It has a windswept theatrical feel occasionally reaching towards interesting low-key grandeur and the sheen of keyboards intermittently imposing itself on the arrangement adds discreet splashes of color. One of the most improbably commercial tunes with the breezy and intelligent “God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” and it highlights Bruns’ five star lyrical talents as well with some surprising musical twists worked into the song’s second half.

“Nite, Nite, Frances” has the feel of a wild-eyed lullaby and some impressively dramatic drumming framing the song. The lyrics stand out thanks to their short lines, the familiarity of the tradition Bruns obviously references with his writing, and the surrounding musical pomp and circumstance never strains the listener’s patience, instead adding to the song’s dynamic sense of construction. It ends Champ de Mars’ Rancho Seco Victory on an appropriate note without ever risking self indulgence.


Mark Druery