Schizophrenic pop. That's how Philadelphia, PA's Raccoon bills itself, and it's a label that fits. Strange Terrain is the second album-length disc from the group (although referred to as an EP for its 8-song length), following 2001's acclaimed self-titled debut. While this follow-up has it's share of highlights, it doesn't seem to be quite as well developed as its predecessor.
A part of what made their debut stand out was the band's willingness to change directions at the drop of a hat, and move from style to style without seeming out of place. That same talent manifests itself on Strange Terrain, but it's not quite as pronounced. Yes, you get the shift from country twang on "New Bones" to the strutting rock of "Seaward Bound", the warped blues of "Quart of Oil" leading to the straightforward post-punk (until the bridge at least) of "Election", but it doesn't sound quite so angular in its juxtaposition this time around.
A part of what really gives Strange Terrain its odd vibe is the ultra lo-fi production techniques; murky and muffled recording that sounds sub-garage in quality (is there such a thing as "bomb shelter rock"?). The fact that Raccoon turned up on a comp disc that featured bands inspired by Guided by Voices is hardly surprising. Alternately, this is cleared up a lot in the final track, "One of the Gang", a song that was recorded off of a live radio broadcast. While it sounds as gritty as the songs before it, it's also a lot clearer, and shows Raccoon to be an engaging live act. Also somewhat disappointing, the two most immediately catchy tunes on the disc, "Delirious" and "Tables", are re-recorded versions that first came to light on the debut.
But there is still a great off-kilter twist to the whole disc that makes it worth further investigation. Repeated listens turn up new instrumental fills and quirky hooks that show Raccoon's playful side, and there's still that punk (heavy on the art-punk) sensibility to these pop songs. Strange Terrain may not be quite as impressive as it's forerunner, but it remains an installment from an interesting and noteworthy band. There's already a new EP following it (Psychedelic Police Car), so you can be certain to look forward to even more bizarre and mental music to follow.