By Nathan Pavolko
Soldiers Of Fortune are an eclectic super group who will rock you so hard you won’t know what hit you. It’s surprising how great they are, considering how little they try. From the start of their career they have been calling themselves an “anti-band”, vowing to never write music, practice, or record; only playing as a pure organic gestation on stage, which is quite admirable and even more ballsy. Yet the stubborn, hardheaded nature and eventual friendship with their label Mexican Summer convinced the band to head to the studio to record only the jams that happen to be played on the spot, with possible over-dubs of guitar if a recording calls for it. Now, with the band’s latest release Early Risers, this album marks two albums deep and they could care less whether you like it or not.
The anti-band was formed by Brad Truax in August of 2004 - who some of you may know him from a band called Interpol - with Marc Moore of The Ospreys. They wanted complete freedom from the norms of traditional rock bands, dealing in momentum and spontaneity. The other members creating the full super group are Kid Millions (Man Forever, Oneida), Barry London (Oneida), Matt Sweeney (Chavez), Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie), and Papa Crazee (an early riser in Oneida). The goal was to play a rare show every now and then exhausting their thirst for explosive organic creations. Their approach on the jam-band mentality is nothing short of thrilling, relying only on instinct and the chemistry of the band during a barrage of shredding and relentless attack. Often referred to by their label as a “dirty dozen type outfit”, Soldiers of Fortune are a group that captures a sense of danger and excitement within their music.
Soldier Of Fortune embody the spirit of The Dead Boys, spitting attitude at whoever is willing to listen, and the impulse of The Grateful Dead without being self-indulgent or convoluted. They are a very clear and concise group, stripping away any stoner rock excess that traditionally follows jam bands. Sadly, later that year, Marc Moore had passed away due to a head injury, with the band calling it quits soon after. Then, Mike Bones comes along and reunites the band, rekindling that lost flame. This spurred the group into playing multiple shows and the eventual signing - after many years of convincing - with their like minded anti-label, Mexican Summer. In late 2010, they released their first ever recorded full-length titled Ball Strength. After a long hiatus from their attempt at recording their second album in 2013, the band came back with about a dozen loose “song ideas”, instead of jams, along with six guest vocalists and finished the album in three days. These six guests are also a huge addition to the already star studded cast; Clark “Yeremias” Bronson, Stephen Malkmus (Pavement), Cass McCombs, Dan Melchior (Broke Revue), Ethan Miller (Comets On Fire, Howlin’ Rain), and Matt McAuley. Remarkably, the featured artists never hinder the bands stampede; instead they embrace the loose congealed songs, marking an incredibly fun performance by each of them.
The sophomore album kicks off with the high octane of “Nails”, with its over-driven guitars dueling in an entertaining unison as a racing rhythm section holds down a cold blooded garage rock groove. Immediately upon hearing the opening track you can tell Soldiers Of Fortune have come a long way from their first record. A much more organized chaos, at the same relentless speed, with hand-picked prominent moments of layered guitar and vocal melodies interchangeably stacking. This band never stops moving, even on their slower songs such as “Cinnamon Man” or the quiet-loud-quiet of “Old Roman Wall” with guest star McCombs singing in a calming voice, two different melodies over-dubbed on top of each other. With every song on the record, the group unintentionally captures a different side of their respected psychedelic garage rock and indie rock backgrounds that can never be recreated due to their no practice mentality.
“Campus Swagger”, one of the more pop-oriented tunes on the LP, bears a heavy yet welcomed similarity to Pavement, with the unique phrasing and distinct voice of Malkmus on the track. A perfect balance of country styled guitar over top a hard-hitting indie rock band propelling the song forward, and the wild out-bursts of Malkmus make this song an easy favorite. Another song that I found incredibly interesting was “Pure Shame”, specifically because the entire song is one giant build up, getting more intense and heart-racing as the song progresses. The track adds multiple dynamic elements as well as melodies and riffs, never ceasing to entertain for nearly three minutes. I was so taken aback once I realized the track was one epic build up, I had to listen to it four more times just to be sure.
Early Risers covers so much ground in a short amount of time, blasting through a solid ten songs. Each track presents familiar themes with wildly different dynamics and approaches, not to mention the spontaneous nature of the band. Soldiers Of Fortune is a modern day MC5 with a star-studded cast, quenching their aggressive jam thirst in sparse doses of genius. This is one great super group that you should not miss out on. I am definitely picking this one up on vinyl.