Austin-based heavy rockers Bellringer have been kicking around since showing off a since-retracted self-titled demo EP (review here) in 2014. Changes in personnel involved have given an added sense of intrigue as the band trickled out singles in videos like “Von Fledermaus” (posted here), “Click Bait” (posted here), and “Art Thief” (posted here) throughout the second half of 2015, but they went relatively quiet after that until announcing their debut full-length, Jettison.
As has been the case all along, at the center of the project is Mark Deutrom, known for playing bass in the Melvins during their major label period (arguably their peak era) as well as his solo work under the Mark D moniker, bands like Clown Alley, production work for early Neurosis and Melvins, The Well, and so on.
Here, Deutrom is credited with writing, recording and mixing the material, as well as providing vocals, guitar and various keys throughout, so he is very much at the core of the proceedings, though the rotating cast around him makes formidable contributions as well, be it on bass, drums, flute, vocals, or other. What’s most striking about Jettison isn’t necessarily the lineup, though. It’s how much Bellringer‘s album material willfully seems to remove itself from the prior singles.
None of those songs are featured on Jettison, and apart from opener “The God of Roosters Does Not Forget,” Deutrom works in a much more open creative spirit, veering into lounge lizardry in the back half of “Inner Freak” and calling out The Doors and others in the lyrics to the subsequent “Cowboy Fight.” Things get strange, and as the six tracks/36 minutes of Jettison play out, that strangeness only becomes more welcome.
Looking at it as a two-sided release gives some context to “The God of Roosters Does Not Forget,” which is the shortest cut included at 2:55, in that “Cowboy Fight,” which would start side B, is also shorter than the two songs that follow it, and maybe more straightforward in its easy desert bounce and emergent thicker push. It cycles through twice at a slower pace than “The God of Roosters Does Not Forget,” which seems to show some of Deutrom‘s underlying punker roots, but if one is expecting Bellringer to do the same thing twice, that just doesn’t seem to be the band’s modus or purpose.
Nonetheless, it’s a pointed turn when the Angelo–Badalamenti-circa-Twin-Peaks synth line starts the eight-minute “Quitter,” holding a long note as the sort of grumbling guitar tone kicks in, rolling out an immediate nod that it maintains for most of the duration, Deutrom joined by vocalists Chico Jones and Jennifer Deutrom (the latter of whom also did the album art), as well as drummer James Flores, bassist Brian Ramirez and percussionist/vocalist Monique Ortiz — who is also listed as contributing fretless bass, but I’m not sure if that’s here or on “Inner Freak” or “Double Yellow Line” or “Demon,” on which she also appears — as he switches from the mellow but heavy verse to a chorus of “aahs” that makes up in memorability what it lacks in lyrics.
In the final third, an extended version is underscored by a guitar solo, not overdone, but drawn out and playing with sentiment in a similar fashion as the keyboard intro. That dreamy line is how Bellringer end the song, immediately showing more patience than anticipated. With drums, more percussion and a funked-up guitar line at its start, “Inner Freak” is about the groove, presenting its verse as a duet between Deutrom and Ortiz. It’s right at the four-minute mark that the song breaks and shifts into bizarro-jazz territory, Bryan Kennard adding flute along the way to the noodling guitar and shuffling snare. The bass and guitar follow the flute as “Inner Freak” ends, giving way to the aforementioned “Inner Freak” at the start of Jettison‘s second half.
And “Inner Freak” does well in regrounding the proceedings somewhat, reminding me of Chris Goss‘ most desert-y work with Masters of Reality as Bellringer has in the past. What makes the following “Double Yellow Line” a highlight, however, is its ethereal tonality, its spaciousness, its mellotron, and its languid flow — completely different from everything on the album to that point and yet not at all out of place in style or substance.
A mellow vibe pervades, with just a hint of foreboding before the second verse, but it’s carried by Deutrom‘s vocals from there and Aaron Lack‘s drums do well in giving them and the guitar plenty of room to breathe and spread out as they do. I doubt they were an influence, but it’s the kind of hypnotic effect that Sungrazer‘s Rutger Smeets could often produce during quieter jams, or that seems to come so naturally to Gary Arce of Yawning Man. Of course, the context is different with “Double Yellow Line,” but it’s an otherworldly excursion that greatly broadens the reach of Jettison overall.
Its subdued vibe continues into the start of closer “Demon,” though with more prominent bass fuzz and a horror-flick organ line, repetitions of “demon” and lines derived therefrom, the mood shifts as well. The organ disappears and returns at around four minutes in, and then an angular start-stop line of thicker guitar provides transition into an extended solo that serves as the album’s final movement, closing instrumentally with a couple last measures of chugging insistence and keys, which are sustained until everything else has stopped, then cut short as well.
I’ve been trying to come up with a solid reason Bellringer might call the record Jettison, and I can’t decide between a few. On the one hand, it’s a synonym for “release.” Might as well call the album “Album,” but it would fit with some of the sonic quirk in the material in its subtle cleverness. There’s also to jettison in the sense of shooting outward or letting go. A somewhat more satisfying notion is that Deutrom, as the force behind the songwriting, is letting go of this material by releasing it in the first place — the notion of jettisoning these songs to attain some kind of catharsis.
I don’t know if that’s the case, obviously, but if Jettison is the result of Deutrom feeling these ideas needed to get out, neither am I inclined to argue with the results of his efforts in that regard. His will to defy expectation and change approach becomes one of the record’s most satisfying aspects, and while it seems superfluous to point out again this is a debut given his pedigree, to think of Jettison as the beginning of an exploration, one can only hope that exploration will continue.