The keeper

If Thee Michelle Gun Elephant were put in a Celebrity Deathmatch ring with any of the bands touted as part of the “garage revival”, I’d put my money on TMGE. (Well, so long as the Hives stay out of it.)

Few bands play garage rock louder and dirtier than Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. Chiba Yusuke’s raspy growl is a love/hate kind of voice — you either love it or you hate it.

As demonstrated on the retrospective TMGE 106 (released as Collection in the U.S.), Thee Michelle Gun Elephant has slowly graduated to bigger studio budgets over the years. Studio sheen is anathema to garage rock’s lo-fi aesthetic.

Not so on Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter, the band’s most recent studio album to be released in the U.S.

The crisper sound loses none of the band’s live immediacy. Chiba and company actually sound stronger.

On the surface, Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter serves up much of the same rough-hewned, headache-inducing rawk ‘n’ roll as previous albums. The quartet could never be accused of “growing” as songwriters.

And yet, there’s something subtly different about Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter.

Maybe it’s the way Chiba makes the songs’ melodies clearer. Perhaps it’s the powerful guitar work of Abe Futoshi. Could be the versatility of drummer Kuhara Kazuyuki. (Spot the almost be-bop drumming on “Citroen no Kodoku” or the tribal beats of “Baby Stardust”.) Or maybe it’s the “Beat Specter” interludes, which show the band can actually play a slow song, let alone an instrumental.

It could be all of those things.

Or it could just be that tracks such as “God Jazz Time”, “Abaraketa Sekai” and “Akage no Kelly” are some of the best songs the band has written within its limited parameters.

Regardless, Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter is the tightest Thee Michelle Gun Elephant album Alive/Total Energy has so far reissued.