Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rhode Island - Light The Windows In These Places Let Through

I work as the Cultural Attaché inside the Theodore Francis Green State Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island.  I greet every arriving person/group with a burning desire to make their stay in Rhode Island as pleasant as possible.  For the vast majority of travelers all this entails is politely directing them to the nearest taxi line, car rental desk, or comfy hotel.  There are others however, those poor souls whose flights were rerouted to T.F. Green from Logan International in Boston thanks to bad weather, who routinely need much more consolation or guidance.  Take the three men I helped yesterday.

 “Good afternoon gentlemen.  Welcome to the hassle-free gateway to Southern New England.  My name is Penfold.  Can I help you in any way?”
“I doubt it.”
“Don’t say that,” I replied.  “A fresh set of eyes and ears might be just what the doctor ordered.  Go on, tell me what’s troubling you.”
“Well, all right.  My two friends and I are in a band.”
“Ah, how interesting.  I noticed that your flight originated from Heathrow in London.  What brings you to the US?  Are you on tour?”
“No, we’re not here to tour.  We actually came over from England because we are looking for inspiration.”
“Inspiration for what?”
“Our band needs a name.  Try as we might, we just can’t come up with anything memorable.”
“Gentlemen, I can help you.”
“Okay Mr., uh…Penfold was it?  You sound very sure of yourself, so why don’t you tell us what the name of our band should be.”
“As Cultural Attaché to this great state I have always been shocked that there hasn’t been a band who took the name Rhode Island.”
“Rhode Island?  Are you serious?”
“Absolutely!  Besides, The State Rhode Island and Providence Plantations has already been taken.”
“Look Mr. Penfold.  It’s not that we don’t appreciate your suggestion, but we’re British?!?!  Why would we want to name our band after your state?”
“I think the real question is why wouldn’t you want to name your band Rhode Island?  Hear me out.  First of all, England has historically been known as a sea power.  Rhode Island is known as ‘The Ocean State’.”
“So what?”
“Okay, you’re not impressed.  How about this?  English people and Rhode Islanders each have strong accents that make them easily identifiable.  Also, both societies have unique names for select objects.  For example, we Rhode Islanders refer to water fountains as ‘bubblers’.”
“That’s fascinating, but…”
“Did you know that Rhode Island is historically the most rebellious state?  Not only was it the first state to declare independence, but it was also the last state to ratify the Constitution?  Very rock and roll don’t you think?”
“Mr. Penfold, I think you’re stretching things a bit.”
“Oh, am I?  Say, I bet you’re big tennis fans thanks to the Wimbledon tournament.   Well guess what?  The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located here.”
“Not all British people like tennis Mr. Penfold.  Look, while we appreciate your help on this matter I think we’ll just leave now and…”
“Sirs, don’t go.  I have one last reason that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt why Rhode Island should be your band name.”
“All right Mr. Penfold.  But this is your last chance.”
“That’s all I need.  Heed my words.  Rhode Island is the only state…the ONLY state…that not very long ago decriminalized prostitution for a spell.”
“Wait, prostitution is legal in Rhode Island?”
“Of course not!  It became a crime again back in 2009.  But still, that goes to show how wild and crazy Rhode Island is right?  So gentlemen, what’s the verdict?”
“Mr. Penfold.  You can book us a return flight right now.  We’ve got what we came for.”

Wow!  That’s the first thing I have to say waveriders.  Wow, wow!  This is one marvelous album produced by one fantastic band.  Can I just say that times like this make me count my lucky stars to be working for The Ripple Effect?  Seriously, I doubt very much that I would have been able to locate Rhode Island the band on my own, and without them my current listening world would be a much darker place.  This album hits my aural sweet tooth with such force I’ve contracted Type 2 Diabetes!  Okay…that’s a terrible joke, but I think you understand my intent here.

Rhode Island is a trio of musicians hailing from the city of Leeds, UK.  Light The Windows In These Places Let Through is their fifth release.  Waveriders, this is one of those albums that I knew would be special less than thirty seconds into its first song.  The overall sound of the band, with the instrumentation and harmonized vocals creating lush soundscapes, is ridiculously ear-pleasing.  This is pop music at its finest.  It is mature, well thought out and orchestrated, and never falls into bubblegum territory.   According to their bandcamp page they play ‘Neo-marxist powerpop, obviously’.  Sounds right to me comrades. 

One of the joys the listener experiences throughout Light The Windows… is identifying the cavalcade of musical influences.  Make no mistake folks, it is a long procession.  Even with my relatively limited musical vocabulary I can draw direct parallels to The Beatles, E.L.O., Queen, Barenaked Ladies, David Bowie, Harry Nilsson, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, Muse, Tears For Fears, R.E.M., down tempo Nirvana, Bjork, and even California-era Mr. Bungle.  Would the band agree with all of my examples?  Most likely not, but that’s the beauty of these songs!  They’re powerful enough that different listeners should be able to link different musical memories with them, everyone will be smiling, and no one will be wrong.

Before we progress any further folks, I have something important that I need to get off my chest.  Rhode Island fooled me.  Utterly.  They pulled the wool so far over my eyes with their happy go lucky music that I was completely blind to the other half of the package, the lyrical content.  It was only after my third or fourth complete run-through of the album that my brain started questioning whether or not the lyrics I was hearing matched up with the tunes behind them.  After investigating the short answer is yes they did, but not in the manner I was expecting.  These lyrics are very intelligent, often dramatic, and sometimes subversive.  For example, here is the last lyrical verse from album opener “War With Iran”.

The hottest time of year, smell of rot on the breeze / With the spiders in the house, and general sense of unease / The junkmail is jammed up with exclamations and red ink / Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining you would kill for a drink / The photograph of Churchill in your grandparents’ house / The mildew in the hallway leaves a taste in your mouth / People round the laser printer prophesise an Arab winter / People in the trees, in the trains and the trams / Ba-da, ba-da, ba-da!

And here is the first lyrical verse from album closer “Shipwreck”.

Bobbing boxes in milky water off a coastal town / Men dragging things on to roof-racks, women tying them down / A shipwreck brings the whole town to the beach / A shipwreck makes the whole town thankful /Something’s happening today, hip hip hooray / Something, something

I think you all get the idea.

Waveriders, the bottom line is that Light The Windows… has become the most played album in my current listening rotation.  Unfortunately for other bands, Rhode Island shows no sign of relinquishing their monopoly rights to my eardrums anytime soon.  If you like smart, quirky, well produced modern pop music you simply can’t go wrong.  Go forth, listen, and purchase!

--Penfold

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