"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.

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/champdemarsband

Gwen Waggoner

Gashouse Radio.com 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.

No Depression - Sept. 2018 Review "boil{s} over with explosive distorted guitar"

Champ de Mars’ Rancho Seco Victory includes twelve songs that cover a lot of stylistic ground, but it’s no surprise as many of the musicians involved in the album’s creation have an artistic history reaching back two decades. An earlier musical incarnation named Bellstar laid the groundwork for the band’s 2016 debut EP and the new full length album and it isn’t any stretch to say they’ve already arrived at a full evolved vision for the band’s music. Songwriter David Bruns, a published novelist as well, is a talented writer and the album’s vocals contain bracing emotional depths while being able to unleash occasional blasts of jagged singing. Much of the album focuses on a well-spaced indie sound, revolving around the rhythm guitar and percussion, with the vocals finishing each composition off with a great deal of flourish.

“Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” is one of the more singular album openers in recent memory. Newcomers to Champ de Mars are introduced to their core sound, a mix of melodic guitars falling over listeners like a rain of notes, punctuated by more involved sequences and rugged flourishes. Bruns and the other musicians alike have a skill for capitalizing on the potential for choruses and Rancho Seco Victory has more than a few, but they also sometimes build climatic moments around bridges and achieve similar effects. Two songs on Rancho Seco Victory, however, stand out for their no holds barred guitar work and how it blends with the aforementioned style while still figuratively drawing blood. “This Machine Kills Fascists” and the later “God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” boil over with explosive distorted guitar weaving blood and violence into the band’s musical tapestry.

Make no mistake, however, that Champ de Mars aren’t candidates to break free of the indie scene and achieve widespread success. The songs “Memoriam for the Wall” and “Brothers” are two leading examples of how the band is equally talented and comfortable with delivering well paced and accessible cuts. The guitar playing definitely has a more melodic touch with these songs. You might miss some of the album’s punk spirit, obviously put across in their own voice, if you skip the song “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?”, but it draws attention too because of the way it locks restrained verses and a fierce chorus seamlessly together.

The final two songs on this album that I loved the most are “Russian River Roulette” and “Ordinary Woman”. The first of those two tunes arguably shows off the band’s most imaginative arranging job on the release and seems built around a bass line that you can’t ignore. The drumming is equally on point. “Ordinary Woman” recalls the earlier commercially minded tunes, but there’s more of the band’s personalized passion coloring other familiar musical surroundings. Rancho Seco Victory may prove to be the foundational release in the band’s currently slim catalog, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t better its outstanding promise with future releases. Champ de Mars is songwriting for intelligent music fans who still embrace guitar fueled music.

Mindy McCall

The Indie Source - September 2018

 

Champ de Mars makes no real secret that a significant portion of their album Rancho Seco Victory concerns itself with the current political situation in the United States, but never browbeat listeners with issue-oriented storm the ramparts songwriting. Their political persuasions aren’t difficult to determine or surmise, but Champ de Mars never frames the subjects in such a way they obscure the musical content. “Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter” is an example of how much of the project’s songwriting is so singular. No one else would write this tune. It has an audible Radiohead influence, but there’s no question listening to the song they’ve transformed that influence, among others, into something relevant for them.

Despite it being only the band’s first LP, Champ de Mars serves up a master class on how to blend artful and intricately threaded arrangements with top shelf writing that possesses understated literary distinction. The prominence Champ de Mars gives to bass in the album mix elevates some of Rancho Seco Victory’s minor songs like “45”, another tune referring to current world events, a heavy ballast that has a physical effect on listeners. There’s no musical chest beating with Rancho Seco Victory, but this is a collection that grabs a hold of listeners within the first seconds of each track. It’s an intimate sound that, nonetheless, commands your attention.

“Memoriam for the Wall” summons an appropriately melancholy, reflective atmosphere and there’s some exceptional guitar playing unwinding the song’s central melody from first to last. The dialogue between the six string and traditional singing maintains the mood throughout the length of the song and it rates as one of the album’s more thoughtful cuts. There’s a lean focus alternating with a raucous chorus on the album’s fifth song “Where Do All the Freaks Hang Out These Days?” and it’s another colorful, yet tasteful, guitar driven number with the band’s skillful use of effects to transform the sound making its presence felt.

“God’s Favorite Redneck Bar” is a great example of how Champ de Mars merge textured guitar parts with ominous and crashing bursts of furious riffs. I like how there’s a humorous detachment initially and the lyrics definitely give a sense of the “narrator” observing their surroundings. It’s well matched with a verse arrangement webbed together with the same suggestiveness heard in the best earlier songs and when it careens into jagged guitar thrashing, they flawlessly pull off the transition. “Russian River Roulette”, for me, is the last truly outstanding number on Rancho Seco Victory thanks to its churning drums and improbable bass hook. Champ de Mars stands heads above a lot of similarly slanted acts and the songs on Rancho Seco Victory are clearly the result of a band that’s worked hard to find their own voice. The project’s unusual open-ended configuration, closer to a collective than a traditional band, insures that future releases will enjoy the same variety and depth we hear on the band’s full length debut. What a powerful outing and I get the feeling they’ve only scratched the surface of the project’s potential.

"Nomination: Album of the Year" from IndieShark.com 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.

REVERBNATION: https://www.reverbnation.com/champdemars

Mark Druery

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.

MobAngeles.com Review - September 2018

 

Champ de Mars has released their debut LP with the twelve songs on Rancho Seco Victory, a patiently developed outgrowth of Champ de Mars re-envisioning of an earlier incarnation of the project named Bellstar. The older Northern California headquartered four piece prospered for a number of years playing locally and released two albums entitled Navigator and Divisadero before splitting up in 2006. Half of the existing band relocated to the Washington D.C. area and ten years later they revisited some of the same chemistry, reformulated for a modern audience, with Champ de Mars’ 2016 EP debut Back from the West. That release garnered some glowing reviews and lays the groundwork for this new recording.

Rancho Seco Victory launches with the song “Forlorn Cowboys of Nuclear Winter”, easily one of the moodiest numbers on the collection. The song never overreaches to achieve its effects, however, and musically delineates a haunted sonic landscape where hope tenuously wafts through the air, never achieving permanence. The breath-like instrumental touch of the first song cedes ground to much crunchier rock fare with the album’s second track “This Machine Kills Fascists”. It’s much more guitar heavy than the album opener defined by muscular riffing that would make any top flight hard rock band proud. The hammering rhythm section attack underpinning the entirety of the song gives the guitar an impervious base to thrash and flail over, but never without sense or reason. Every word and note matters on Rancho Seco Victory.

The strong pairing of bass and drums continues with the song “45”, a not so obvious reference to the nation’s current Oval Office holder. Songwriter David Bruns and company never embrace simple minded denunciation or stump for any obvious dogma – this is musical art demanding the listener engage with the material and draw their own conclusions rather than being spoon fed any particular point of view. Discerning listeners will definitely sense the band’s perspective. Hypnotic electric guitar figures duet with brief melodic runs cascading in response. “Mono Street” is one of the more fleshed out tracks on the album and it’s fascinating to hear how Chamo de Mars consistently turns out such involved arrangements that, nonetheless, never come off as cluttered or self indulgent.

Another winner on Rancho Seco Victory for me is “God’s Favorite Redneck Bar”. It’s a wry bit of songwriting with underplayed dark humor. There’s a lot of this song that plays like a series of condensed character studies. Bruns’ singing wisely never overplays the vocal and gives it the right amount of energy for its memorable chorus. The poetically titled “Boreal” lives up to its suggestive title with a snaking, beautifully arranged mid tempo number. The painterly touches of keyboards and other electronic touches deepen the feel and assume a more prominent role further into the song. “Ordinary Woman” romps out of the gate with a spartan distorted bass riff giving it unusual punch. The energetic drumming gives the album’s penultimate track an urgent air and proves key when the performance hits the chorus.

“Nite, Nite Frances” has a nice melodic sound, but nonetheless stays well in keeping with the general style embodying the album as a whole. The vocals are among the best on Rancho Seco Victory and sparkle with an emotional lift sometimes missing from the earlier songs. The first extended recording from Champ de Mars more than picks up where these musicians left off as younger artists; it’s a brave and mature reshaping of their musical destiny.

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/david_emerick

Michael Rand

Wonderful 10/10 review from Gashouse Radio.com

"This is a great effort by David Emerick and current musicians in his camp. The songs are crafty but loose and the players are very tight. It deals with looking back a lot but out of it came a great modern rock result. You get some past, present and a little future here but it’s mostly centered-around getting back to roots and the fact that nostalgia doesn’t discriminate when it comes on strong. It’s about looking for that good stuff. These songs resonate all of the elements that got us here, but with an added depth and texture that dusts off their old-felt edges."
February 20, 2016

Wonderful 10/10 Review from MusicExistence.com

Excerpt:

Kicking off with the mesmerizing “All Hail The Has Beens” is the best way to start the track running order, even though this would fit anywhere on the CD. It seems somehow meld more than one subject that deals with bringing back the once acclaimed. Emerick gets into more than one way to describe the matter, with everything from telling of the REM’s of the day and how they’d fare now and the things they’d endure now compared to then. Some of this is easy to nail and at other times there seems to no figuring things out, which is obviously about those things the listener knows nothing of the inner workings of in the first place. I makes for an interesting opener to say the least, and sparks the other tracks yet to be ignited.

That changes quite considerably from there as effigies are explored on “X Marks The Citizen” which actually deals quite interestingly with society, but weighs just as much in with ideas that tend to make their way via sounding right with the music as well. Both of these elements merge here and more excellent guitar is applied. As can be found on the previous song. And speaking of guitar this has a great rolling riff to drive it. I think this track has a strong David Bowie influence behind it, but then it could be someone who was influenced by him that Emerick picked up on, either way this is a well-balanced track with various styles to shake up the ears.

If that doesn’t float your variety boat, “Western Evaporate” brings a guitar that reminds of bands like The Cure and Robert Smith even gets a nod here. There is a bigger guitar sound crashing over the melodic run that opens the track. It’s really just an influence because nothing is copied but you can tell he likes that band, as it is written all over it. This deals with remnants of relationships, etc. And Emerick shines here as well as anywhere else on this release. While other tracks might have more modern and retro appeal, this one perfectly balances the two. This is a fantastic piece with all the bells and whistles.