Ex-Menomena member Brent Knopf explodes upon the promise of Intuit, his stellar debut as Ramona Falls.
Intuit, Brent Knopf’s first full-length under the Ramona Falls moniker, then a side project, was an inventive release merely hinting at the raw talent and originality displayed throughout the entirety of Prophet. Maybe his departure from his former band, the rightfully massively critically acclaimed Menomena, spurred Knopf to achieve something truly incredible on his own. The heights reached here may also be due in part to finally settling in with a new band, instead of endless collaborations like the ones that littered Ramona Falls’ debut. In whatever case, Prophet is here and it’s one of the first 2012 releases to come close to being an outright masterpiece of artistry.
To fully explain Prophet, the key points of DLR need to be covered first. DLR, (or Deeler, as it’s often referred to) is the device Knopf’s been perfecting over the years. It stands for Digital Loop Recorder and is a system that can loop simultaneous instrumental tracks throughout any given song. The memory capacity of DLR is absurd, as it can store close to everything input into its banks. It’s a device that’s been utilized heavily for the Menomena releases and again for Ramona Falls. It’s also fairly indicative of Knopf and his bands stunning overall musical prowess and versatility. On a variety of tracks throughout his career, Knopf has self-recorded an incredibly wide array of instruments with artful arrangements using the device. He does again on Prophet but isn’t as reliant on it as he’s been in the past. However, this is how so many instruments can be credited to the band Ramona Falls and a small list of collaborators over the course of Prophet‘s 11 tracks.
Of these 11 tracks, Prophet never once wavers in how stunning it is. Every single song sets career highs for Knopf and announces Ramona Falls as a band to be seriously reckoned with. Starting with “Bodies of Water”, it’s immediately evident that Ramona Falls have stepped up their game in nearly every conceivable aspect. Everything feels more fluid, more memorable, and ultimately more complete. It also prepares the listener for how much they have to process as there’s a number of genuinely outstanding moments all throughout every song on Prophet. In the case of “Bodies of Water” some of the triumphs include; the syncopation of the piano line, the vocal melody, the lyrics, and the massive chorus, along with just about everything else. It’s fascinating to hear how well how many instruments complement each other and the song so effectively. “Bodies of Water” is thrilling not just for being an incredible song in its own right but for signaling the start of a sequence that matches it at every opportunity.
“Bodies of Water” also sets off a momentum burst that’s capitalized on by “The Space Between Lightning and Thunder”. That particular track is immediate in attention-grabbing with the piano-and-vocals passage of “The party is over. I’m tired but sober, I think my coat is on the bed.”, which for many will be evoking an all too familiar image. When that small section ends, it’s complemented with an incredibly brief orchestral flourish that works on every level in furthering just how good the song is. Its greatness continues to be steady up until the breakdown before the outro when it becomes masterful in creating atmosphere. When it cuts out at the end, it’s hard to think of how good it was or how good the next song is going to be.
Fortunately, “Spore”, the first song to be released from Prophet is a perfect track to follow and a very good indicator of how Prophet plays out. It’s intricate, it’s original, it contains musical and vocal passages that can leave the listener breathless. Another important aspect of “Spore” is that it really plays up how essential Knopf’s piano-playing to this album is. It’d be unfair to say it carries the album, but as a central part of it that’s always being complemented, it helps hold it together in the strangest of ways. While “Spore” is mostly a quieter, more introspective song than the rest of Prophet, when the vocal melody picks up towards the end, it enters new realms of brilliance. Then, when it’s punctuated by the punchy bass line that sounds like it’s coming from an incredibly low-end synthesizer, it secures a spot in memory and takes how catchy Prophet is to new extremes.
“Divide by Zero” and “Archimedes Plutonium” act in tandem together to create an even greater sense of unifying elements on Prophet and complement each other absurdly well. They’re both mid-tempo numbers with strange breaks, an enviable assortment of instruments, and showcase how well Ramona Falls operates as a band. The sense of being somewhat disjointed that plagued small portions of Intuit is replaced by a new-found confidence in the fluidity of these songs while refusing to downplay the fact they’re both challenging in composition but strangely accessible. This is all pop music of the absolute highest order.
“Sqworm” and “Fingerhold” both up the tempo of Prophet a bit and feature the band really showing their teeth for their first time. When the ominous fuzzed-out bass and sparse, ominous-sounding drums kick in and Knopf sings “I put the lambs blood on my door” things get genuinely terrifying for a moment. It’s a dark moment, to be sure, but it’s pulled off with such commitment and confidence that it becomes one of Prophet‘s most staggering moments. The guitar squalls that punctuate the song occasionally after that only add to the dark atmosphere. “Fingerhold” continues the suddenly dark atmosphere but instead of taking it further, balances it out with the sunnier dispositions of the mood in previous songs on Prophet, making it one of the albums most definitive moments. Once again, as is the case with every song here, there’s a surprising number of standout moments in “Fingerhold”, including how unbelievably well the song is structured and arranged. Like everything else on Prophet, it’s bold, both challenging and accessible, and comes off as startlingly fresh and original. The noise-influenced freak-out at the end only confirms it.
After that noise burst, “If I Equals U” kicks in and marks one of Prophet‘s quietest moments . Perhaps it’s to help the listener prepare for the near-perfect three song closing run, that pulls absolutely no punches. In any case, by being one of the records most minimal moments, it becomes one of the most engaging. It’s a brilliant change of pace that’s as gripping as it is good. If it serves as any indication whatsoever, it’s that Ramona Falls are at a point in their career where they can essentially pull off whatever kind of song they want as long as they assimilate their very distinct art-pop identity into it.
When “If I Equals U” comes to another satisfying close, it kick-starts the run of “Brevony”, “Proof”, and “Helium”. “Brevony”, unquestionably, is Prophet‘s darkest and heaviest moment. The vocal syncopation and delivery Knopf pulls out for this is perfection. When the guitars really kick in, the record once again finds a way to become genre-transcendent and provides the umpteenth thrilling moment of Prophet. From start to end “Brevony” stands out as a distinct song and as one of Prophet‘s strongest highlights. It’s refreshing to hear a band that could so easily become a simplistic twee band if it wanted to take this kind of risk and just lay everything on the line.
While “Proof” and “Helium” don’t quite reach the almost unprecedented height set by “Brevony” they both do an excellent job of standing alone as album summations. They both bring Prophet to a relatively quiet close while showcasing everything Prophet does so well. Combining a varied selection of instruments and arrangements into a beautiful whole over memorably intelligent lyrics incorporated into one outstanding structure. Everyone involved in Prophet was clearly at the very top of their game and turned out one career highlight after another. That’s a very rare feat and it’s nearly impossible to duplicate so when the world gets evidence of those moments, it should take notice. So, world, take notice- Prophet is your latest masterpiece. While it may be too complex to ignite a full-blown movement in the alternative genre, the fact that it exists as all is cause to celebrate. More importantly, it’s cause to keep listening.
// Notes from the Road
"Powerful Chicago soul-singer dips into the '60s and '70s while dabbling in Urdu, Punjabi and Italian.READ the article