Eight years ago, Waldo County-based musicians Nathan Raleigh and Cody Tibbetts began screwing around with their instruments, to see if Tibbetts could play guitar and drums at the same time while Raleigh put his bass out front and (extremely heavy) center. The band that came out of those sessions – The Class Machine – has played intermittent gigs around Maine ever since. A bar here, a theater there, an indie rock festival or two. Nothing regular, and no album recorded.
Until now. Like an epic rock n’ roll birthday present, on June 12 Raleigh and Tibbetts casually dropped “Swarm Theories,” a nine-song full-length album, on Bandcamp, like it was no big deal. It is a big deal, however – “Swarm Theories,” which they worked on for nearly a year, is not only is one of the best-sounding albums to come out of Maine this year, it’s one of the best albums period, regardless of whether or not you like massive, fuzzy metal-inspired garage rock.
“I guess if it’s worth doing it takes time,” said Raleigh, a Jackson native who played in Portland bands for years before moving back to Waldo County in the early 2000s. “We didn’t see any point in rushing it. We wanted to do it right. We wanted to have something we were really going to feel good about. I think we got it.”
The pair recorded the album over the course of five days last September with acclaimed Maine producer Jonathan Wyman at Halo Recordings in Westbrook, and had it mastered this spring by Doug Van Sloun of Focus Mastering in Nebraska, who has mastered albums for Bright Eyes, Cursive, She & Him and others. The band had hinted at the album for months on their Facebook page, but when “Swarm Theories” hit the Internet two weeks ago, it was, as track eight on the album proclaims, like a lightning rod.
“The [studio itself] is an instrument. We piped the drums back into the room while we were doing the mixing so we got even more drum sound. And that’s really important, because basically, we’re just drums and bass,” said Raleigh. “What we really hope is that it comes across as both lo-fi and powerful. We never got a studio version of any of these songs, so we wanted to at the very least get them down.”
“Swarm Theories” opens with the riff-heavy “Right of Way,” which showcases everything awesome about The Class Machine: Tibbetts’ powerful rock drums, Raleigh’s huge, fuzzy bass playing, complimented perfectly by his rock falsetto screams. The only thing missing is Tibbetts’ guitar, which he miraculously is able to contribute with great skill while he’s simultaneously playing drums. In other bands, the guitar and drum played together by the same person might be a gimmick, but for the Class Machine it just adds to the raw power.
The band gets compared to Motorhead a lot, but there’s much more going on than just big riffs and attitude. Raleigh’s songwriting capabilities, lyrical skill and sense of melody put him much more in line with someone like Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age – listen to the funky piece of agit-pop “Predator Drone,” or the off-kilter, wistful ballad “Recollect,” the latter of which brings to mind an alternate universe in which Kurt Cobain stuck around.
The Class Machine’s next show – their first live show in months – will be at the Arootsakoostik Music Festival in New Sweden, set for Saturday, July 13; admission is $18, visit the Arootsakoostik Facebook page for updates on set times.