The far east referencing prologue that brings the third Rats On Rafts album to life is appropriately entitled Rain, sounding at first like tiny droplets of water splashing against leaves and making puddles in Zen gardens, leaving behind little ripples in its wake, before the steady trickle builds in intensity and crescendos into a torrential downpour of feedback.
That intense sensation of barometric pressure endures as it fuses itself with second track A Trail Of Wind Of Fire, a thunderous five minute whirlwind of call and response new wave anguish, punctuated with recordings of thunderstorms that seem unwilling to abate. It’s a crafty trick, implying a sense of inherent calm, considering how hyperactive the remainder of the album becomes. It’s certainly not the only watery magic the foursome from Rotterdam have tucked up their sleeves.
Lacking the anarchic wit so omnipresent on their second album Tape Hiss this record is, to a greater extent, the band reining themselves in with new emphasis placed on adding much needed harmonies into their arsenal of bizarre assemblages. Expelled from singer David Fagan’s raw throated lungs Second Born Child, built around columns of ambiguous chanting, appropriates the staggered and intoxicated approach of Mark E Smith and clamps that gaping snarl to the cinematic panoramas of Ennio Morricone.
The motorik chug of recent single Tokyo Music Experience and the rambunctious howling Where Is My Dream? are playful and fuzzy if fairly uncomplicated laments, but its on tracks like the curt Another Year and the iridescent Fragments where the group achieves something resembling greatness. The former is an edge of the seat scrap of poetic ramblings, played out over treated piano and awkward intervals of scraping wire, recalling tracks like Sonic Youth’s unnerving Secret Girl. The latter is a faithful descendant of Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra’s sweeping Some Velvet Morning, a song they entertainingly covered back in 2016. A reliance on sardonic wailing does them a disservice, as they can be spectacularly entertaining when they choose to act a little less boisterous and goofy.
As the album approaches its grand finale, you get Part One: The Long Drought and its kosmiche saturated Part Two; Crossing The Desert which prove to be enjoyable measures of cowboy flavoured classic punk, as in love with the mythic Hollywood wild west as Sandinista era The Clash. Final track Epilogue: Big Poisonous Shadows finds the band on the last reel, caught in a confusing dustbowl of sound, praying for hydration which gratefully comes courtesy of the familiar looping watery effects that opened the record and so the cycle begins again. It’s a conflicting record, filled with swells and dry spells, but the forecast is generally clear in all directions.