What the hell?
I’ve just listened to Rah Bras’ newest release EPS three times, back to back. Strictly timewise, this is not a difficult feat, as the disc only gets past the half-hour mark on the coattails of an Isley Brothers cover (more on that in a minute). Still, it wasn’t easy, and I’ve finally come to a conclusion as to why: I have absolutely no emotional investment in Rah Bras’ music. There is no point over the course of EPS at which I say “hey, Rah Bras is really showing some potential here”, or “hm, maybe I’d like to play this for someone else, to see what they think”. Truth is, the likelihood of my remembering any of what I’ve just heard tomorrow, even after three listens, is approximately equal to that of, oh, Jack Bauer actually getting killed in next week’s episode of 24. It just ain’t gonna happen, unless of course he’s killed, immediately cryogenically frozen, and brought back next season… which I suppose I could see happening.
Pardon the digression, but the potential for digression is dangerously high when reviewing something like EPS—anything to divert oneself from the task of actually trying to describe an album like this presents itself as awfully tempting.
This isn’t to say that EPS isn’t interesting. Sure it’s interesting. It’s interesting for the sake of interesting, as a matter of fact. Listening through EPS, particularly on the first listen, is sensory overload on a grand scale, followed almost immediately by sensory resistance, culminating in sensory immunity. It is plastic digital proof that the scale of interesting happens to be circular, in that it jumps off the top and comes out on the bottom, becoming “un”. Its all-out wonky craziness ultimately results in boredom. This is weird, and a bit unfortunate.
Perhaps I’m not being fair. Surely, part of the problem here is that EPS is a compilation that consists of the entirety of three Rah Bras EPs, two of which are from Rah Bras’ early years, and one of which is a three-song EP recorded live in Tokyo. The very nature of such a compilation easily explains a lack of flow or consistency, given that the EPs on EPS are presented in chronological order. It’s also much more likely than not that EPS was put together for the hardcore Rah Bras fan, assuming such a thing exists. Evidently, their 2001 full-length debut, Ruy Blas, managed to garner enough success as to warrant such a compilation. And why wouldn’t it? For the first time in Rah Bras’ career, they managed to establish some sort of consistency and vision in their output—of course, whether that vision is consistently ironic, parodic, or dead serious (not likely, but I suppose it’s possible), is a question for another review. What’s important is that any momentum Rah Bras may have established with that album is dashed with the release of this one.
Let’s pick a few tracks out of a hat, just for specifics’ sake.
“FYC” opens the album with strangely atonal operatic vocals over aggressive synth-punk. “Bus Stop” combines crowd noise, car horns, and chants of “Bus stop!” and “Transfer!” (which later morphs into “Goddamn motherfucking transfer!”, for no particular reason). “R.C.M.” starts off sounding like an old Ween demo, all cheap Casio beats and tweaked out guitar noise, eventually turning into some sort of convoluted doo-wop with electronic burbles providing the backing “vocals”. “Poisson” sees vocalist Isabella Rubella emoting… well, something over a satisfying, creepy bit of psycho-noise. “Subtlights”, one of only two tracks here to break the four-minute barrier, is actually bizarrely straightforward, sticking with a consistent beat throughout, and consisting mostly of vaguely cheerful synth wank and lyrics about “Skylight / Radar / Receiving,” or something. The creepy outro of “Subtlights”, in fact, is likely the highlight of the entire disc, finally establishing a mood to go with all the experimentation.
Everything you really need to know about EPS happens in its final track, a live document called “Tokyo Bus Stop”. It’s a version of the aforementioned “Bus Stop”, complete with new improvised chatter and the traffic noise of the original. The thing is, in this version, “Bus Stop” proper bookends a live cut of the Isley Brothers’ “Contagious”, as all three members join in on vocals to do the multiple parts of the original. It’s dead-on as covers go, but you know it’s a spoof because one of the male members in the band sees fit to replace some of the spoken asides with things like (spoken in well-enunciated ultra-serious narrator voice) “She’s having sexual intercourse”. The inclusion of such a cover is relatively entertaining, and one could make the argument that it’s the most musical thing on the entire disc. Still, its inclusion begs an obvious, simple question, a question that, in fact, needs to be asked regarding the existence of this entire album: What’s the point? As it turns out, there is no point, and that’s the point—which is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean you’ll ever want to hear it again.