About a year ago, in interviewing the Columbus, Ohio band the Sun in the wee hours of a winter night, I unknowingly opened a door into the entire Columbus music scene and how it functions. Chris Burney, the Sun’s frontman, seemed tired and disinterested in interviewing until the subject of Columbus came up, and he was quick to act as its bushy-tailed musical tour guide. After describing the city itself, he and his bandmates rattled off an extensive list of Columbus’ up and coming bands. One of those was Church of the Red Museum, a six-piece screaming tornado of a group with feet planted in almost as many styles as the band actually has feet. Those of you who are as geeky as I will notice that this Columbus collective takes its name from an X-Files episode featuring an extreme vegetarian church, alien DNA and teenagers dumped in the woods with “He Is One” painted on their bare chests. Red Museum is not the first band to claim X-Files allegiance, with Killswitch Engage and Eve 6 preceding them, but is definitely the best of the bunch.
Brian Travis, the singer and organist for the Church, kicks things off with his screaming fury in a twenty-one second song called “It Will Not Live.” Travis’s high pitched growls of “you don’t know a thing about love,” amongst other things, sounds like a combination of Tom Waits and Isaac Brock, a trend which would continue throughout this debut album. Besides the traditional bass, drums and guitars, the Church of the Red Museum features organs, played to almost video game effect in the second track, “A Flush Never Felt So Bad,” violins and trumpets, featured magnificently in the highlight third track, “After All.” Travis again recalls Brock as he creepily sings himself through one of the most horrific confessions since Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” The `narrator’s’ wife leaves him, and he takes his revenge by killing her and her newfound love. Travis shows a knack for songwriting as he takes these grisly images and turns them into a dance worthy rock stomper.
“Not in This House” again masterfully combines non-traditional instrumentation to back Travis’ growl. Trumpets and organs create some kind of back alley soundtrack to appropriately guttural tales of woe, and they shine like coins dropped down a sewer grate, like some lost treasure only attainable by a select few. “The Bay,” another highlight, finds Waterboys-like violins backing a Tom Waits meets Nick Cave rock and roll freakout. “Shotgun Blast” and its male/female duet vocals of Travis and Leslie Niemczura marches along like some kind of ’60s and ’00s hybrid, like Love meets Gomez or the Zombies and Modest Mouse. “The Road” has turned out to be a fan favorite in a live setting, which unfortunately at this point is usually in and around Columbus, but hopefully that won’t be the case for long. “Durham R.I.P.” finds more of an Eastern European feel, the kind that has made such as splash with bands like Devotchka and Beirut, which then leads directly into the thirty-one second reprise of the opener, this time called, “It Can Not Die.”
Church of the Red Museum is one of Columbus’ hidden treasures, released on a local label and playing gigs mostly close to home. Members of their hometown neighbors, the Sun, discussed the Columbus music scene as a diversion from bad weather boredom and as an excuse to hang out with friends. Church of the Red Museum seem to have somehow surpassed that point, composing compelling, if not disturbing, folk meets tin pan alley meets jazz meets horror movie gritty rock and roll. With sounds like these, they won’t be stuck in Columbus too long.