Having listened to Roto’s debut effort The Low Power Hour to the point of nausea, I am still clueless as to what these guys are trying to achieve — and by the sound of things, so are they. Led by DC musicians David Arbury (bass/vocals) and Carleton Ingram (guitar/vocals), Roto is an amalgamation of fellow musicians (mostly drummers) who boast of their concept of bringing in a different drummer for every live show they play. With this in mind, The Low Power Hour is supposed to be an experimental “celebration of drums”.
First of all, this is no celebration. The music on The Low Power Hour is reminiscent of the stripped-down, raw alternative sound that everyone was after in the early ’90s — just plug the guitar directly into a solid state amplifier and you’re there. Even though Roto may have found the sound, the songs themselves come across as uninspired, directionless, noisy musical clutter. The sheer lack of melodicism makes this album unlistenable, not to mention the fact that vocalists Arbury and Ingram can’t sing, and that their attempts at harmonizing are simply embarrassing. And what about their lyrics? The Low Power Hour is chocked full of mesmerizing lyrical lines like the opening verse of “The Show”: “Got my cotton candy / Got my pixie sticks / Pass the Toblerone / I need my sugar fix” and “Where’s the big league chew and candy cigarettes / Non-alcohol beer and brand new mint Sucrets.” These types of arcane lyrical thoughts run rampant on this record, leaving the listener in total darkness as to their meaning.
And the drumming? Well if you were to read Roto’s press information you would have been led to believe that this “celebration of drums” would have been something percussively groundbreaking or at the very least, the centerpiece of the music. I was expecting to hear talents on par with drum-giants like Neil Peart (Rush), Rod Morganstein (The Dregs), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) or perhaps something stylistically different like the inclusion of African rhythms or Native American cadences. It’s none of the above. There are four different drummers here that, in all honesty, are no more impressive than your average, eighth grade snare player. There is no difference in styles between the drummers, all are equally mediocre.
As I mentioned, The Low Power Hour is no celebration — at best, it has about as much excitement as California’s rolling blackouts. Simply labeling this effort as “pathetic” is perhaps being a bit too kind.