Listening to Tracer’s excellent ‘spaces in between’ you can’t help but feel that the press release was misrepresenting the band a touch with the whole ‘grunge’ tag. Now don’t get me wrong – I love grunge, it’s just that what you have here is closer to the classic hard rock of, say, Velvet Revolver than the punkish, downbeat misery of Nirvana, Tad or Mudhoney. Indeed, in its list of comparisons the press-sheet offers up Audioslave – hardly a grunge band despite the presence of Chris Cornell – and a more fitting description might be Queens of the Stone Age covering Led Zeppelin (so that’ll be Them Crooked Vultures then??!!) given the arid nature of the guitars and the soulful roar of the vocals.
A three piece hailing from Australia, Tracer have actually been hard at it since 2004, releasing two indie releases before finally finding a well-deserved home Cool Green Recordings (a sub-division of the mighty Mascot records). However, as hard a slog as it must have been for the group, the result is music that is well honed but with a strongly defined identity that has come from the years of touring and recording together, and the twelve tracks on offer bristle with blues-infused energy and the hedonistic spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Take opening cut ‘too much’, which is apparently to be released as a video later this month, pared down to a satisfyingly chunky hard rock riff, gravel throated vocals via the Glenn Hughes school of singing and a decent rhythm driven by the pile-driving drums, it’s the sort of revitalised classic-rock-style blast that have had audiences in thrall to Black Country Communion in recent months whilst a Slash-style solo puts the track firmly at the harder end of the spectrum with Tracer clearly as familiar with Guns ‘n’ Roses as they are with the mighty Zeppelin and Purple. ‘Push’ meanwhile shows a more contemporary edge with a strong Queens of the stone age feel pumping through the sketchy guitar riffs and dry-as-bleached-bones vocal. ‘Walk alone’ takes a darker direction with heavy toms rolling away behind a pure blues vocal and a storming chorus that references Audioslave’s mighty ‘Cochise’.
One of the many highlights on the record is the blues stomp of ‘louder than this’ which provides a stunning showcase for Michael Brown’s astonishing vocal talents before slowly building to be a monster track filled with fat, engaging riffs and throbbing bass. Putting pedal back to the metal, ‘devil ride’ has a nagging rhythm and a Zakk Wylde feel to it before ‘the bitch’ turns up the heat, referencing the fearsome might of Sabbath coupled with the quirky rhythms of a certain Mr Homme. It’s a great track that oddly recalls ‘no one knows’ as played by Tony Iommi. ‘Voice in the rain’ shows a more sensitive side to the band and also demonstrates a strong melodic bent that is both melodic and memorable – it’s the sort of song that would justifiably have appeared in the charts back when the charts represented real music – but it’s enough to know that it’s a great rock ballad which would not sound out of place on a Bad Company record. Following the stunning ‘voice in the rain’ the title track of the record heads back out into marginally heavier pastures with a bouncing bass line from Leigh Brown filling in the space left by the guitar on the verse while the chorus hits like a velvet boxing glove thanks to the heavy yet hypnotic riff unleashed by Michael. ‘Dead inside’ is equally powerful but better is the brilliant ‘save my breath’ which captures the band in full flight and which will undoubtedly light up the band’s live shows in October. Melodic, with a stunning vocal performance and beautifully phrased guitar work, it’s the sort of hard rock anthem that deserves to put Tracer firmly on the map. ‘All in my head’ is a softer moment – albeit with plenty of heavy guitar work in the chorus – that gives a nod to the Screaming Trees before the final track ‘won’t let it die (run Mary)’ rounds things out with a bluesy, smoky number that has atmosphere and attitude in equal measure.
With a somewhat overcrowded market it takes something truly special to excel in the field of hard rock at the moment and Tracer have that something special in spades. In Michael Brown the band have a prodigious guitarist and a gutsy, talented singer, while the rhythm section of Leigh Brown and Andre Wise play no mere second fiddle– Andre’s percussion is solid and engaging throughout while Leigh’s bass lines and backing vocals offer plenty to the mix. Moreover this is very obviously a strong band effort from a group of musicians who have had time to travel and develop together making ‘spaces in between’ a strong, cohesive album with plenty to admire and no obvious flaws. Notably the band also produced the album, and it is clear that they understand clearly the sound their music deserves with the mix offering plenty of fire without one element ever over-powering another. To put it simply, if you enjoy engaging, classic-sounding hard rock with a strong contemporary edge and memorable songs then this excellent record is for you.