Rodan - Rusty
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Everyone seems to know a great deal about Rachel's and the Shipping News, two of Jason Noble's most recent projects. Most seem to know about June of '44, Jeff Meuller's pre-Shipping News project. Many know whom Tara Jane O'Neil is, and that she's played with Retsin and the Sonora Pine. Hell, some even recognize Kevin Coultas' name from the time he put in with Come. But what most people don't realize is that all four of these talented people came together to form Rodan. Existing briefly - less than three years - Rodan managed to amass a small, devastating catalogue. The cream of their crop was Rusty, their only full-length album. A combination of all things good from the realms of hardcore, jazz, math-rock and the then-unnamed post-rock, Rusty is a six-song masterpiece that deserves the same respect as anything Slint, Shellac or Godspeed You Black Emperor! have ever released.
And that is exactly the terrain Rodan used to excavate: noisy, scrappy post-punk stretched to its emotional and sonic limits; tremendously long arrangements that never relied on repetition and that beat every drop of meaning and worth out of their every second. And "beat" is the right word. Rusty is heavy. It is violent. Imagine if you will, the Dillinger Escape Plan melding with Slint.
You may have noticed that I have dropped the S-word twice already, and I really should take a moment to address this. Yes, Slint and Rodan both hailed from Louisville, KY; yes, each band was made up of expert musicians; and yes, they both wrote lengthy, dynamic songs, but the similarities end there. Slint wrote sparse, jarring pieces that made use of space, subtlety and those wonderfully crushing volume shifts. Rodan, on the other hand, wrote busy, turgid, churning songs that rarely used volume as a dynamic because the music was almost always loud as fuck. Yet I still see the words "Slint" and "Rodan" used synonymously almost everywhere I look.
And perhaps that's why I needed to write this, to remind people that Rodan was unique, and that Rusty has held up as well, if not better, than the other indie rock classics of the early '90s.
It is nothing less than 43 minutes of painstakingly, lovingly, expertly assembled thunder: alarming as it shudders above you, soothing as it rolls in the distance. The album opens with the rich, chiming layers of "Bible Silver Corner", a guitars-and-bass instrumental that sees the members of Rodan work through several gorgeous, distinct movements, provoking tears with its beauty, paranoia with its dissonance, wonder with its whole. It never gets loud, forcing you to pay attention to every note and echo. Picture modern-day Fugazi playing a Rachel's composition in a candle-lit cathedral. Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up yet?
If so, prepare for it to be singed off by the alarmingly harsh "Shiner". In two-and-a-half minutes, Rodan blasts through six alternating movements, each one an off-kilter, complex blow to the head. Fierce and visceral in all the places "Bible Silver Corner" was haunting and delicate, "Shiner" sets the stage for the poetic brutality that is the rest of the album: dual-guitar mangling, an other-worldly rhythm section and Jason Noble's bark-wail-whisper vocals. I wish I could describe his screaming of "Shoot me out the sky", but without being able to show the words ripping in half, italics will have to do.
The final four songs are an unthinkable amalgam of the first two. "The Everyday World of Bodies", a twelve-minute exercise in tension, shifts seamlessly from punishing, percussive math-rock to quiet, albeit rough-hewn, mazes of plaintive tenderness. It's a constant juxtaposition that never grows tired, but it does run its course, and that's when the variations begin. Guitars begin fluttering and clashing in different ways, time signatures are hacked at and the crucial refrains - "everything changes", "come on, come on, come" and "I will be there" - are unveiled, expanding the song's revolving structure while exposing "Bodies" for what it is, a love song. And when those lovers' promises are finally unleashed in Noble's ragged bellow, they are as chilling as they are lovely.
"Chilling" can also be used to describe Tara Jane O'neil's vocals, fully introduced in the early stages of "Jungle Jim". A lonely, disturbing groan, it's a perfect contrast to Noble's voice, and floats like a dense fog over the dissonant, spooky verses. But this is Rodan, so the quiet soon erupts into a scraping whirlwind. "Jungle Jim" does the quiet-loud dance, but avoids redundancy by changing tempo and tone. Every dynamic is used, so it's not just a matter of rising tension and release, it's a matter of true contrast. It's an unpredictable, frightening song, replete with a distant feedback and screaming outro that you shouldn't listen to if you're alone in your house.
"Gauge" opens with a discordant, sludgy introduction that begins to take shape just as it ends, making way for a very clean, linear structure over which Noble and O'Neil layer cryptic words. "An anthem designed to take care of you", is how the song is described in the liner notes, and I tend to agree. "Gauge" is simpler and more melodic than most of the material on Rusty and there is a definite feeling that the song is an attempt to cope with loss. How better to accomplish healing than with passionate, abrasive art-rock?
"Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto" begins with a battered music box and a considerably funky drumbeat, bringing to mind Noble's recent, excellent Permission project. The funk disappears and waves of distorted guitars crash through, loud but beautiful and soothing. A brief quietness ensues, making use of another unsettling vocal performance from O'Neil, and then come the riffs. A brisk, absolutely filthy groove drives the song forward. No blindsiding shifts, just a straight-ahead, ass-kicking track that ends explosively and unexpectedly.
And sadly. Only one other person I know owns this album. I have still only read one review of it in my entire life, and that was when I was in tenth grade. If you don't own Rusty, you need to. Please buy it. Together we can teach people that the words "Slint" and "Rodan" do not represent the same things, that Rodan stood on their own, and that Rusty is indeed one of the finest independent albums ever released.
By: Clay Jarvis
Published on: 2003-09-01