John Reis has seemingly never felt beholden to anyone’s expectations. In a long career that stretches back to the dawn of the ’90s in bands like Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and, most important, Rocket From The Crypt, Reis has followed his gut and little else. It led him to add horns to RFTC’s potent rock, to alter the group’s approach after a successful major-label debut, to start various short-lived side projects, and in the case of The Night Marchers, release the band’s sophomore album nearly three years after it was recorded.
The group recorded Allez Allez, the successor to 2008’s solid See You In Magic, in 2010, but for unexplained reasons sat on it—not that the album suffered musically from the passing of time. Reis has always been defiantly trend-averse, and his bands tend to specialize in the kind of frantic, lo-fi garage rock that never really ages. Allez Allez—French for “Go, go”—could have been released pretty much any time since the explosion of punk and indie rock in the early ’80s. It also doesn’t sound too far removed from Reis’ other bands; he’s described The Night Marchers as an amalgam of elements of his previous work, from the good-time rock of RFTC to the intensity of Drive Like Jehu and its successor band, Hot Snakes, three-quarters of whom play in The Night Marchers.
If The Night Marchers need their own thesis statement, though, the second track of Allez Allez provides it: “The only things that speak to me,” Reis howls, “are loud, dumb, and mean.” Allez Allez may be loud and occasionally mean, but any dumbness comes with a wink. Reis has always been a showman—particularly live—and he’s in his element while he sings in “All Hits,” “Every word from my lips, every drop from my piss / It’s all hits!” (Over cowbell, no less.) It gets even sillier on “2 Guitars Sing,” which opens with Reis singing, “Do you speak slang? / Can you translate? / Sign language for ‘masturbate’ / I locked all doors, unzipped my pants / Guitars jump out and start to dance.”
But he also slips in plenty of commentary, like the anti-immigration zealotry of “(Wasting Away In) Javalinaville” or the government repression in “Roll On,” which is literally about decapitation. Reis couches it all in cartoonish language, but the point is hard to miss. Ditto “Big In Germany,” a funny takedown of careerist bands who flaunt overseas success. The title of album closer “Fisting The Fan Base” lets listeners know what to expect.
Musically, Allez Allez has more variety than Reis’ more recent projects. “Tropical Depression” opens with a two-chord shudder straight off of Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crime, but “Pain” is a genuine midtempo pop song, showing Reis still has a way with hooks. “Big In Germany” has a blues-rock shuffle, and “Fisting The Fan Base” has a hard-rock riff that strongly recalls Wolfmother’s “Woman.”
That may sound out of The Night Marchers’ universe, but they make it their own. Allez Allez finds Reis continuing to play with expectations, but succeeding with the results, as usual.