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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Still single recommended

Rat Columns – Leaf LP (R.I.P. Society)
I’ve listened to this one so much that I’m challenging myself by listening to a different record while I write this. Actually, I’m not listening to anything but the ambient rush of traffic along the BQE. It’s a clean, headclearing sound that would be a good ambient background for this superb pop record, the second full-length under this name by the busy and talented David West (Rank/Xerox, Lace Curtain, Burning Sensation, ex-Total Control, a handful of others), who gets help from countrymen James Vinciguerra and Mikey Young on this go-round, along with his American rhythm section (Jonathan Young on bass, Violent Change’s Matt Bleyle on drums). West started Rat Columns as some manner of 4-track pop clearinghouse, which took a turn for pop-punk on debut album Sceptre Hole, and here starts that way before diving into a slightly slower, more contemplative groove. The “hit” material is on the A-side, and feels a bit mid-‘80s British/C86 by design, though elements of a deeper narrative are placed throughout (small touches like that sleigh bell jingle at the end of “Pink Mist,” for instance, kind of set things off a bit), and I’m also reminded of when American indie bands decided to cool down a bit in the ‘90s and become a little more genteel, a la The Sea and Cake. Strangely, this record picks up where others seem to think it lets down: side A closer “Fooling Around,” written by Young, is an out-of-nowhere highway/motorik grazer, evoking Yo La Tengo on the autobahn late at night, a totally pleasing and mature entry followed by a spate of personal breakdowns that, for me, make the record. Apart from the title track closer, the drumming on side B slips … a lot. I assume this is by design, and since everything else, even the wheezing synthesizer, is played straight, the lapses in timing on percussion add a sense of unease and vulnerability that would be missing were they up to scratch. West’s mumbled, drifting vocals obviously add to these qualities, but together these concepts add a new dimension of pressure to the leering, too-hot/too-close “Petrified,” and the late night halogen streetlight halos and cruise control search of “Empty Lanes,” more reminiscent of the quieter moments of the late, great band Seam than anything I’ve heard since their demise. Then there’s “Leaf,” which breaks the mold altogether and seems to begin with a sample of a panting dog, which builds into the rhythm track, the neon/dying fluorescent tube flicker and sumptuous electronic/bass interplay, sounding closer to a Lace Curtain track than any Rat Columns material before it. Somehow, West has crossed Australian pop with pleading, emotive American strains, and come up with a meaningful and poignant record for this calendar year. I can only hope that this project continues in, and with, such a strong internal direction. (
(Doug Mosurock)

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