Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Robbers - Flesh EP

I’m fascinated with this album.

Let me back up a bit and explain. Flesh EP is the astonishing new disc by this New York area quartet, and it is an absolutely mesmerizing, nearly hallucinogenic, completely hypnotic trip down Alice’s rabbit hole into a terrifyingly beautiful world of contrasts and juxtapositions. Mixing in touches of ambient rock, jazz textures, mid-tempo dance beats, a slap and tickle of drone rock and a big ol’ nod to some of the darker, pop masterpieces of the eighties, these cats have created an album that somehow manages to soar high above the cumulus clouds while never leaving second gear. It is a pack of contradictions within itself. An incredibly varied work that mines only one sound. The work of an extremely accomplished, mature hand, yet the band members are barely out of their teens (except for those who are still in their teens.) It is a work of mind-boggling beauty and abject brutality in the same breath. Extremely dense yet barrenly spartan. Gorgeous and terrifying. A sonic mind-fuck.

Getting the picture?

Musicians this young aren’t supposed to be able to craft a work this intense and fully realized. At their age, my biggest accomplishment was popping an extremely satisfying pimple, not creating a mini-masterpiece of mood rock. When asked to describe their sound, the boys came up with the word, vague. Yeah, I’ll go with that also. We’ll call it mood-inflected, vague-rock. Modern drone, ambient and spacey, looping and pulsing. This album demands your attention, lulling you in with a false sense of security then bludgeoning you over the forehead. All without ever once raising its voice.

“Stay Together,” begins the disc setting us off on this wild, mindtrip of contradictions. Think latter Japan in terms of its ambient texture. Delicate guitar lines echo within their own spacey chambers. Bass flutters below, moving things forward, but slowly, languidly. The main guitar line, finely picked, one note deliberately sustained at a time, is simple and gorgeous, remarkably effective at creating the tone of the song. A tone of elegance and beauty. The vocals are breathy and near angelic, lulling you in, calling to you gently, easily. And then you hear the lyrics and your whole world flips upside down in a moment of madness. This isn’t a love story we’re hearing. In fact, it may be one of the most brutally terrifying songs I’ve ever heard. “Wife and son both believe that I’m a prophet sent from God/They both believe that I’m meant to rid the earth of the scum/that walks upon the earth like zombies and skeletons/little do they know I’ve been sent from hell to kill them both.” Meanwhile the bass continues in its hushed tones, the drums never striking the pads too hard. And it’s that contradiction that makes the song work, so much tension between the music and the content. “I’ll teach you how to breathe then rip out your lungs.” Absolutely gorgeous and frighteningly disturbing all in one mouthful.

“Swear,” introduces a fluid bass line a la Level 42 at their best, riding under the glistening guitars and spartan, droning keyboards. The song settles into a shoegazing groove of near perfection capped off with a chorus that can only be described as melodically gorgeous. Impeccably crafted, this song deserves to grace the airwaves of any and all indy/alt rock radio stations. It certainly will be heard on the Ripple Radio Show. Often. “Eager,” flows out next, as easily as water flows down a trickling stream. Bringing to mind those lost Scottish mood-rockers, The Blue Nile, this is pop song of uncommon resonance. Absolutely dreamy, the guitars positively shine as if they had been minted in gold. Listen to the tone of the harmonizing guitar following the vocal line, reflecting the melody like moonlight off a still lake. The tension contained in this composition nearly takes my breath away. Think The Lotus Eaters in the melodic structure of wistful wanting in the music. You’ve heard break-up songs before, but never one that so accurately captures the pain and despair of love lost. “I told you once that I’d like to get married/You told me once that you’d like that/I told you once that I’d like to get married/but now all I’m trying to do is get you on the phone.” Absolutely immaculate stuff.

“Desert and Tree,” takes this post-Lotus Eaters pop sensibility one step further, actually coming across as light-hearted, with a joyful, buoyant, infinitely hummable chorus. I can’t make out the lyrics, so don’t tell me they’re about a lover’s suicide pact or building an atomic bomb. Just let me believe that they’ve crafted a happy pop song. Just this once. “Hey there,” follows suit and is simply perfect in its shimmering craft. Dynamics rise and fall in somber graces, like leaves falling off an autumn tree, swirling to the ground in whirlpools of despair. Endlessly evocative.

Personally, I don’t know if the guys in the band have ever even heard of the names I throw out as references. Level 42, Japan, The Lotus Eaters, The Blue Nile. I bet each of these bands broke up before any of the Robbers were born, which actually makes the disc that much more remarkable. Seems to me, these incredibly talented cats tapped into some unseen zeitgeist of melancholy beauty, some psychic pond where the rumblings of despondency run so deep they become sublime. And that’s what we have here. A deeply affecting, astonishingly beautiful, completely mesmerizing experience of conflicting emotions and senses. I was actually sad when the time came to write this review and I’d have to take this disc out of my player. It had found such a comfortable home there.

And it still does.



Anonymous said...

Hey....this is a great....keep in mind.......I didn't watch the vid, I rarely do. But musically it rocks my world, as deadmandeadman says often enough.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great review. This is the band to watch. I saw them play their hearts out in a Williamsburg dive. I hope to see them play the Garden in the future. Long Live Robbers!

Anonymous said...

Best new music. Best new music.

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