Friday, July 25, 2008

Raincoats - Ody Shape

It came about 3 days ago, and I've listened to it about ten times, so let's get down to the nitty gritty.

As a whole, the album is a beautiful mess, with three rules of structure musically speaking:

1. The music follows the words. As explained in the re-issue's liner notes, Gina Birch states they wrote most of the music in the absence of a drummer, so a metered beat occurs occasionally. In fact, most of the record abandons harmonic and rhythmic convention entirely, sometimes in the middle of a song. The effect is incredibly jarring. Unlike punk groups like The Clash, Sex Pistols, or even Wire, the band was wildly experimental. Birch again: "I think we always took punk philosophy very seriously and we rejected the traditional forms of rock music, that in fact most bands ultimately didn't reject." This is not sneering, sarcastic, clothespin and leather punk. This is music being ripped apart from the seams.

2. Instruments switch roles. The bass could be the lead instrument in a song. And then cello and violin. Suddenly a kalimba enters the fray. You get the picture.

3. Destroy all expectations. Listen freely and sit back, because this album is a fucking journey.

The album opens with the solemn "Shouting Out Loud," a bass-led piece that features This Heat's Charles Hayward playing a rickety percussion pattern auto-panned left to right with subtle interjections from an electric guitar and pizzicato violin. Although spare, the arrangement is rife with tension.The lyrics concern a wounded female contemplating her life/love. This will be a constant theme throughout.

"Family Treet" is as dense as they come on "Odyshape," with a mournful piano creating the harmonic boundaries. A bowed bass, violin, and breath-taking whispery vocals create a shimmering, constantly-shifting landscape, as the band moves from a plodding 4/4 to an antsy 5/4. The tempo shifts are chaotic, as some instruments shift before others, and melody lines seem to place emphasis more on texture than anything else.

My personal favorite "Only Loved at Night" follows, a song that respects a steady meter a little better than most. A shrill descending electric guitar line holds down the verse, with a glorious melody sung by Ana and harmonized by a huge bass guitar that almost over-takes the rest of the recording. It's when the chorus hits that I'm swept away. What sounds like a washboard and bells are struck in an eighth note pattern, as a lone kalimba picks out a stark melody. Ana intones, "Boys love her at night, girls love her in the dark," and goddamn I have to meet this girl.

"Dancing in My Head" is more free, as the instruments follow Gina's words concerning the battle between the spiritual and physical. Resembling a German lied, the song is a perversely "standard" tune compared to the rest of the lot. Former PIL drummer Richard Dudanski lends a hand on an assortment of percussion, a role he would eventually take as a full-time drummer on "Kitchen Tapes" and "Moving".

Another gem, "Odyshape," emerges in a cloud of digital delay. The dueling electric guitars and even Hayward's booming, clattering drums bounce and shimmer, as the women sing of the female image in modern culture, statements that still ring true.

I'm not glamorous
or polished in fact
I'm no ornament
it could be my bodyshape
I wonder if I'll ever look right

The guitar/drum combo sway back and forth, teetering on the brink, a microcosm of the album as a whole. Just an amazing song that pulls you in.

"And Then It's OK" and "Red Shoes" both rely on natural pulse and feel rather then conventional rhythm, with infamous experimentalist and Writemare favorite Robert Wyatt providing percussion flourishes. "Baby Song" song is almost funky, driven primarily by Hayward's stalwart drumming and a direct-recorded guitar. The closer, "Go Away," is an angry plea for isolation. Screams of chaos meet with a physical and confrontational arrangement that ends with a bombastic swell of violin shrieks.

Took me freaking half an hour tops to provide this fan-boy narrative of a record review. Hope this gives people a better idea of what this album sounds like, instead of a completely useless three sentence fart that simply reinforces the album's existence.


Evan said...

Awesome awesome awesome. Great review! The form was great! Conveyed a shit ton of info and got me excited to burn that album from you when Mandy and I swing on through CHICAGOOOOO.

You only lost me on the penultimate paragraph where you switched gears and moved through the last batch of songs rather quickly. Because of the way you paced the rest of the article, I zoomed through the paragraph and lost the details. It was a good paragraph but I wasn't ready to slow down to take in the condensed info.

I'm just being nit-picky, though. :) I was very impressed by the organization, though, considering my This Heat review took me an hour and lacks that strength of coherency that you got in half the time.

How is "The Kitchen Tapes"? It's available for download on Amazon but the other records you mentioned including this one don't seem to be. Recommend?

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