The "Now Age" practitioners return with another high-concept album whose conceit doesn't take away from the fun of it all.
At times, Prince Rama seem more like an art school prank than a legitimate band. The Brooklyn-based group know their way around myth-making and crafting high concepts surrounding their music. A cynic might argue that Prince Rama do this to deliberately obfuscate deficiencies in their music or any sort of emptiness in their message or lyrics. The latter is a constant barb thrown at the group, and it’s popped up again in advance press for Xtreme Now. But emptiness might be part of the point for Prince Rama, and it doesn’t change the crucial aspect that makes Xtreme Now such a worthwhile listen. This album is fun, inventive and exciting in a way that independent music rarely is in 2016.
Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson claim that Xtreme Now is based on the concept of extreme sports and that it provides a soundtrack to snowboarders and Monster energy drink enthusiasts. While that doesn’t mean that it’ll soundtrack the next Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game, Xtreme Now is a frantic listen. “Bahia” welcomes listeners with a non-stop groove that winds up and never winds down. After that, the album rarely lets up as the Larsons jump from idea to idea with reckless abandon. “Slip Into Nevermore” unfolds as a sweetly melancholic bit of pop, while “Now Is the Time for Emotion” and “Xtreme Now Energy” are the sort of breakneck punk songs that would actually fit in with the album’s concept. The group drift from synthpop to percussion-heavy art-disco to rock dirges with the greatest of ease. Even while juggling such varied styles, Prince Rama acclimate themselves well, which is no small feat in itself.
Lyrically, Prince Rama don’t get into the specifics of Xtreme Now’s general conceit, but again, that was never something they were known for. The Larson sisters’ words are largely there to capture feelings and evoke images rather than illuminate on grand concepts. On “Your Life to the End", the duo sing about the thrills and fears that come with taking one’s life into one’s own hands on a regular basis. The words don’t probe further or pass judgment, but they perfectly surmise the experience. Further on, “Xtreme Now Energy” posits constant movement as a double-edged sword, as both a creative and destructive force that is shockingly easy to harness. There is depth to Xtreme Now, if one is willing to look for it. However, its pleasures remain more visceral than cerebral.
Of course, there’s the chance that Prince Rama are running a long con of sorts and that Xtreme Now is ultimately all a substance-less joke. Given how committed the Larsons are to such an absurd concept, it could go either way. Regardless, the possible frivolity of the enterprise doesn’t make Xtreme Now any less fun, nor does it detract from its many musical merits. Were this album released without a performance art concept behind it, Xtreme Now would likely be hailed alongside the best work of groups like Yeasayer or Gang Gang Dance. As it is, listeners will probably hear Prince Rama with one eyebrow raised, which is a shame. Some art is best appreciated when one isn’t preoccupied with being smarter than the artist.