The ability to inspire dumbfounded looks of confusion doesn’t tend to be one of the more common features that people look for in their favorite bands, but Rah Bras have a devoted following regardless. Rah Bras push everything to overdrive, pumping distortion through synths, percussion, and vocals, all while pushing the tempos of metric tons of non-traditional time signatures way past anything that any sober-slash-sane person could possibly dance to. And with WHOHM, Rah Bras do all of that right. That is, they put the kind of energy into this album that such spastic songwriting absolutely requires, while giving the whole thing a consistent enough sound to actually sound like an album, rather than a small pile of two-minute synapse busters.
The album is divided into fairly distinct halves, with a first half dedicated to high-energy, high-BPM fractured disco anthems, all of them voiced by the pitch-perfect stylings of Isabellah Rubella, known simply as Bellarah for the sake of WHOHM. You see, the band has evidently attempted to one-up the Ramones’ trademark identical surnames via the bestowing of a single name upon each member, where each name has an identical final syllable. Jeanrah and Boorah dominate the latter half of the album, more measured but no less strange, placing either faux-vocoded robotic distortion on the voices or allowing for a drunk David Byrne to come waltzing through the studio, while slightly less distortion and slightly more off-kilter rhythmic work comes to the fore. All of it culminates in a rather pretty near-instrumental, followed by a lovely little hidden track that dares to peer through the bombast and irony of the rest of the album.
All this in just over a half an hour.
Highlights of the Bellarah side include opener “As She Rah”, which manages to (sort of) invoke the name of He-Man’s twin sister while sounding like a Rush song where all of the instruments have been replaced by heavily distorted synthesizer noises. “No Furture” pushes things into the 180BPM range while upping the urgency by cutting measures in half here and there and putting in some seriously cheesy pre-programmed drum fills that somehow, miraculously, add to the ambience. Oh, and there’s a “Me and Julio”-style whistling solo, for you Paul Simon fans out there. And then there’s the song with the wonderful hybrid title of “Venis”, which would probably be a tremendous pop single accused of advancing the sound of the top 40 if it were sung by Gwen Stefani. It’s got an easy-to-follow bass synth line, and Ms. Bellarah is singing some unabashedly pretty melodies about “all her flaws wrapped in gauze” or some such nonsense. Trust me, you don’t listen to Rah Bras for the words, mostly because you can’t hear most of them for the distortion.
Of course, that’s not always the case on WHOHM‘s second half, particularly the supremely bizarre “Monde Sewer Cholera Net” (yummy!), which chronicles the march of the oompa-loompas in 7/8 (and occasionally, randomly 9/8) time while somebody rants about an impossible love whose dilemma is revealed in choice lyrics like “Would you tell her for me…that I love her, I fucking love her, but I can’t!” It’s tragic, I know, particularly after he compared her to the sound of a clarinet. Robots take over for two consecutive tracks (“No Wonder (Bread for the People)” and “War Ribbing Ode”). And yet, there is exquisite beauty to be found, particularly on the final track “Mother Put the Wheel Away I Cannot Spin Tonight”. You see, alone, it would be a pretty, if icy piece of synthwork that wouldn’t put you to sleep, but in the context of WHOHM, after reality has been altered and everything looks just a bit more Technicolor, it’s different and wonderful.
WHOHM‘s secret track is most likely secret because it marks perhaps the first time that Rah Bras’ music has been delivered without their signature smirk and melodrama. Bellarah plays the older, more jaded Dorothy Gale, flying over the rainbow and finding nothing spectacular at all. Intentionally or not, it’s a track that humanizes this trio through the hard-earned betrayal of genuine emotion. As such, the half hour that precedes it is accentuated, the absurd flavor heightened, the mystique of Rah Bras’ spazz-synth superhero personas cemented. Rah Bras do bizarre, and they do it well—if the joyously, unabashedly strange is what tickles you, WHOHM is your ticket to happiness.
// Notes from the Road
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