There’s three misleading parts in the Rainy Day Saints’ name. I’ll let you figure them out for yourself, but here’s some hints: On their sophomore disc, Diamond Star Highway, there’s bright, jangly power pop, dark atmospheric rock, and badass freak out psychedelica. Maybe the name is meant to be ironic. But enough smartassery. The big news about the Saints is that they’re a full band, not just the nom de rock for Dave Swanson. The outfit—guitarist/keyboardist/singer Swanson (drummer for Mag Earwhig!-era Guided by Voices, it should be noted), bassist Brian McCafferty, guitarist Keith Pickering, and drummer Scott Pickering—sounds great, covering a wide variety of styles under the garage rock umbrella. Hey, maybe that band name isn’t entirely off-base after all. The only problem is with all this wide mastery of styles, there’s no real sense of who the Rainy Day Saints are.
They open with “I Don’t Follow”, a jangly slice of early ‘80s-style power pop that wouldn’t sound out of place on an old Bomp! compilation (indeed, the band gives a shout-out to Bomp! founder Greg Shaw in the liner notes); meanwhile, “She’s Fallen Apart” is a lost track from the recent Children of Nuggets box set. When they’re not aping genres, the RDS are invoking specific bands. “Infinity (Impossible Like a Train)” is a hard-charging harmonica-fueled rocker that barrelasses like a locomotive ... off the new Primal Scream record. And damned if the ringing “Nowhere Girl” isn’t the best answer to the question, What would the Yardbirds sounds like if they were a working garage band? Again—it sounds good, but who are these guys?
Complicating matters further are the moments when the RDS turn in songs that sound like other songs, not just other bands. The menacing, slightly psychedelic “No Surprise” is a decent update on “Highway Star” (sonically, not thematically), and the title track may be a riff on that Deep Purple classic, but it’s an instrumental horn freak-out that sounds like, of all things, Metallica’s “Hero of the Day” performed by the Mothers of Invention. Weird.
And there’s yet a fourth level of self-obfuscation—a pretty impressive feat, given that the album is only 11 tracks and 45 minutes long—as the band kicks in two cover tunes: Leaving Trains’ “Terminal Island” (a tune I’m unfamiliar with, but in the RDS’ hands it’s the disc’s folksy-ish closing number) and the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer”, which the band plays at half-speed and turns into a dark blues song.
The Rainy Day Saints sound great and clearly know their musical history inside-out, because that mastery nearly makes up for the band’s opacity. Bands that wend their way into fans’ hearts are those that people can relate to, can find something to grab onto, and right now, the Rainy Day Saints may have hooks aplenty, but they don’t have The Hook. If you’re searching for your new favorite band, keep looking, but if it’s rock and roll ciphers you seek, your journey just ended.