[23 September 2009]
As Dada Bandits begins, you hear “Goji Berries”, and you think you’re hearing Animal Collective. In particular, the screamy bits that punctuate every two lines of the first movement sound almost exactly like those little screamy things that happen in Animal Collective’s “Grass”. Then, “Radiants” begins, all soaring strings, drum fills, horns, and epic aspirations, and you think you’re hearing the Arcade Fire. By the time “No Escape” begins with its own repeated synth-guitar motif and you half expect Carl Newman and Neko Case to break in with a duet of their own, you start wondering whether you’re hearing a new album by an all-but-unknown Finnish band or a compilation detailing the recent history of indie rock. And yet, it’s brilliant, album-of-the-year type material, for one reason: the joy.
Perhaps for the same reasons that so many moments on Dada Bandits sound like they could have been created by other bands, the men of Rubik seem to have not just a clear idea of the ideals they wish to espouse in the music they create, but they a true love for the bands who embodied those ideals in the days before a single note of their new album was played. As such, there’s a joy here that can only come from a true love of what they are creating, an intensity that only results from the drive to be great.
Despite the disparate influences, and despite the lack of any particular running theme, Dada Bandits does feature a few recurring themes that contribute to the sense of an actual album, rather than a mere collection of songs. For one, every song but one is in a major key, which likely contributes to the sense of joy throughout the album. Fast songs, slow songs: it doesn’t matter, they’re all done in major keys. That makes Dada Bandits utterly impossible to listen to if you’re trying to wallow in a bad mood. At times it’s like hearing a photo-negative of the Arcade Fire, a band who never met a minor key they didn’t like. All of the tremendous instrumentation is here, and the epic, movie-musical feel, but it’s all just so…happy.
Aside from the general sense of joy and the oh-so-big sound offered by the instrumentation, there’s also the matter of Artturi Taira’s vocal style. Above all of these loud, bombastic instruments is that voice, in a constant state of whisper, occasionally supplemented with a bit of crooning. Taira never puts himself out front like the rock star and never commands attention over the rest of the band. He’s the rare songwriter who is content to be a part of the ensemble, even as he is singing about things he certainly cares about.
Talking about the unity that so much of the album carries takes away from the true treasure of Dada Bandits: the little moments. The best are worth bullet-points:
- A lovely aside in the largely abrasive “Goji Berries” that immediately evokes Freddy Mercury
- The last 20 seconds of “Karhu Junassa”, which takes off in a wave of soaring vocals and spacebound synths
- The monotone vocal section toward the end of “Richard Branson’s Crash Landing”, which carries on like a pedal-tone amongst all manner of keyboards, clarinet, and guitars
- The stop-start bridge of “Fire Age” that happens immediately after the first chorus
...and so on. Listen to the album twice and you’re likely to find two entirely distinct sets of moments, products of the sheer number of layers and sounds they put on top of each other at any given moment.
Then there’s the gorgeous “Indiana”, the one song to deviate from the pattern of major-key songs. It separates itself from the rest as the sort of universally identifiable song that anyone could apply just about any tragic occurrence to. The refrain “Indiana screams” could refer to the state or to a person. The song could be about September 11th, or it could be about the personal impact of the death of a loved one, or anything in between. What’s obvious is that this isn’t a sad, self-serving song about a girl. Rather, it’s about something bigger than that, the sort of experience that changes a person, a group, a state, a nation. That it’s done in the only minor key of the album in a hushed tone that belies the mood of the other 12 songs, though the urgent need to escape takes the song into more chaotic places, only heightens its impact.
One would be hard-pressed to say that Dada Bandits is an important album. It doesn’t sound as though it’s the start of anything. Imagining Rubik as the leaders of some sort of movement is almost impossible. Still, to listen to Dada Bandits is to hope these Finnish lads get their moments in the sun. To listen to Dada Bandits is to hear as good a summation of modern indie rock as you’re likely to hear, with the added bonus of a unified album-listening experience. To listen to Dada Bandits is to hear utter joy in musical form, and damn if that shouldn’t count for something.