El Pistolero means literally, the gunman. More figuratively, it’s taken to mean “a pistol”: someone with a quick fiery temper, who’s unpredictable, or has an angry streak. With that in mind, I eagerly popped Tracer‘s new one in the CD player, hoping for an album with hints of unpredictability or anger – generally very passionate musical moments. Dynamic, catchy songs coupled with Kevin Shirley‘s production oversight resulted in this 13 track romp. El Pistolero is more thematically consistent then Spaces In Between, with several tracks harkening back to ‘Wild West’ or ‘Old West’ days with that ‘Tex-Mex twang’ or ‘Texas slide’. That’s fairly normal for a band from the United States, but this power trio is from Australia! They sure cut that intercontinental distance to nothing.
The album is focused. It is consistent in mood and feel, with relatively few ‘breaks’. The acoustic “Ballad Of El Pistolero” stands out as one of the most prominent mood shifts. There are a few songs presented which stretch over the five-minute mark. “Scream In Silence” has a nice ‘live set’ crowd pleasing chorus. It’s not just prog rock that gets the longer, well-crafted tunes today. Sound wise, it delivers a fairly melodic, eclectic mix of classic rock, grunge, post-grunge, alternative rock, with a little Celtic and East Indian added in places as a spice. Tracer are a groovy band. By that I mean they are masters at crafting palpable rhythms that are easy to enjoy. Most of the songs are well within a ‘danceable’ mid-paced tempo range.
Instrumentally, the album is ‘typical for rock’ and fairly sparse (sitar? keyboard? and acoustic guitar parts excepted). Vocal, guitar, bass, and drums are all solid. Within rock’s grunge subgenre, at least a random sampling from icons like Pearl Jam showed that often, the bass line follows the rhythm guitar closely. Writing songs in this way thus brands the songs to the genre. It is consistent or genre-upholding; a wise move, not reflecting any creative stall. One thing this band does very well, on a per-song basis, is that they pretty much have the exact same theme for their verses and the exact same theme for their choruses, and they move between those seamlessly. So they’re really good at keeping the intra-song continuity going. That’s good for listeners who like predictability, which could be clever irony given the record’s title. Virtuosity is not required to deliver high quality music: AC/DC, The Ramones, and Nirvana are hardly technically minded bands, yet all have iconic ‘smash’ hits. So while virtuosity and musical athleticism catch my ear, I recognize there is a definite time and place for it. Sometimes you simply must relax and enjoy the groove: this album seems to be written for those who enjoy a talented, good, solid, groove-oriented album.
The outstanding track on the album, to me, is “Dirty Little Secret”. They begin with an in-your-face, swaggering lick, following it up with some great phrasing and good tone. There’s lots of sizzle on the percussion & high end. The whole of the song is ‘played to perfection’: no overplaying, no underplaying. The song has a fairly different texture and feel to it, from the rest of the album. Other stand-out tracks include “Wolf In Cheap Clothes” with it’s swanky, syncopated, high energy riffing, and “Manic For Ya” with it’s uptempo catchy groove and grit-edged vocal.
Criticism: While it’s a good rock album, with plenty of rhythmic diversion or ‘unpredictability’, it’s theme and delivery is very ‘safe’. The buzz surrounding the band, coupled with the album and song titles, lead a listener to believe this will be an Appetite For Destruction-esque earthshaker. It isn’t. It’s not a rock genre game-changer, but it is a joy to check out. It’s a fun album, easy to assimilate, and easy to listen to, in a Wal-Mart Friendly sort of way. It does have some attitude (esp. “Wolf In Cheap Clothes”) but it would be a stretch to call most of it a ‘bad boy rock and roll’ record.
Overall, my impression from this album, is of a band who have good songwriting skills, and an above-average desire to succeed. El Pistolero is professional, almost mercenarial – and very convincingly delivered. The production is clear and well suited to the album’s overall vibe. The band is tight and they play in time. It’s not magic, but it’s damn good. Many of the songs seem to have been custom made for the live setting, so together with their youthful good looks and enthusiastic stage presence, these are sure to be hits. Tracer are going places – they’re a band ‘to watch’.
Track listing with song lengths:
El Pistolero – Suite del Desperado Part 1 — 3:24
Lady Killer — 3:50
Dirty Little Secret — 3:05
Dead Garden — 5:20
Ballad Of El Pistolero – Suite del Desperado Part II — 0:57
Santa Cecilia – Suite del Desperado Part III — 3:26
Wolf In Cheap Clothes — 3:49
Scream In Silence — 5:32
Hangman — 6:05
Manic for Ya — 2:56
There’s A Man — 5:11
Until The War Is Won – Suite del Desperado Part IV — 4:02
Now I Ride — 4:34
Michael Brown (Vocals, Guitar)
Pat Sarcino (Bass Guitar)
Andre “Dre” Wise (Drums)