t seemed that the nineties brought mimicry and bricolage to new heights in pop, or just-left-of-pop, music. From the obvious collage aspects of Beck and the DJ Shadow to the genre-hopping parody-or-tribute? Antics of Ween to the mess of hitherto-seldom-heard influences dredged up by bands running the gamut from Stereolab to Trans Am to, say, US Maple, one way to achieve success – or, at the very least, notoriety – was to study a genre of music just beneath the cultural radar and produce your own unique (often first vaguely sloppy or in some other way punk-inspired then ultimately more mature) spin on it. Some bands transcended their influences; others ran out of steam or were dismissed initially as thought to be good only by those who hadn’t heard the source material that was being reproduced live (of course, this response grew synonymous with the grousing of the purist, the curmudgeon, i.e. the hardened Fall fan who detests Pavement).
When they first emerged, The Rapture drew many comparisons to Gang of Four, and with good reason: they used some very post-punk/funk signifiers, among them (1) barbed shreds of guitar, often squalling when not choppily melodic, (2) equally choppy but robust bass-playing, (3) concisely aggressive skin-beating, and (4) tersely barked, pseudo-accented, indicting-yet-slightly-cryptic vocals. Even at the moment, their (if I can get all Stan Lee for a moment) pulse-pounding “House of Jealous Lovers” single can easily be summed up as sounding like, well, a somewhat discofied Go4. Still, The Rapture manage to rise above charges of being a merely formulaic band, simply because they’ve gotten the formula so right it’s hard to see them as being motivated by anything besides, well, sincerity.
The first thing that comes to mind when discussing this music is its physicality. After a tentative guitar-and-bass intro, drummer Vito Roccoforte kicks this brief, concentrated EP’s title track off with a walloping, simplistic groove that instantly puts the question of whether this is merely some post-emo band fooling around in no-wave territory to rest. Sounding here like a much messier (yet the band values precision where it’s needed most, never veering into sterility) and stripped-down !!!, rhythm comes first with the Rapture; out-of-tune guitar antics and song-structure play are intriguing yet secondary.
“Modern Romance” begins with a nagging, two-note guitar line that splits itself into several simplistic riffs, snaking between the monolithic rhythm section’s layers. A perfect sense of timing helps here – the song cuts itself off in midsentence just before embarking on a series of drum rolls and fret-abuse that lead to a climax, then stops once more on a dime. Here, Wire seems to be another key reference point, one the band has learned well from.
Unfortunately, “Caravan” and “The Jam” both contain a bit too much messy experimentalism to really lift off as the other tracks, unlikely though they may be, manage to. The former’s stop-start structure, which seems to contain more unaccompanied vocal wails and restless guitar from Luke Jenner than anything else, fails to utilize Roccoforte’s drumming effectively, even if his drums do sound great in a poorly-recorded, garage-y way when they finally enter the fray. The latter, meanwhile, contains an interestingly jerky rhythm and some great, agonized vocals, but it lumbers along at a methodical pace, coated in an attenuated blast of feedback don’t necessarily add much aside from a certain snottiness. When the noise is cut out for what could be considered a chorus – Jenner turns more melancholy, the guitars more snarling – things finally come into focus, but by then it’s too late.
It’s “The Pop Song,” which sounds very little like what its title suggests, that is the true winner here. Starting with a slightly warped crescendo of hopeful, charging guitar, the tone quickly turns sour; Jenner yelps out a series of “You’re growing older!”s in a voice that resembles (as I told my friend when seeing the band live) Terry Jones’ charwoman voice in a Monty Python sketch as the band vacillates between uplift and trashy chemical-imbalance angst. Essentially an unwieldy blend, it radiates a certain off-kilter charm – maybe this really is a pop song, after all – that allows it to succeed.
If we’ve been waiting for a catharsis, “Confrontation” offers it in terms of pained squeals (Jenner’s voice and guitar complement each other perfectly) and punishing, Contortions-like funk. A ridiculous noise section, about as unapologetic as anything I’ve heard since the Boredoms, threatens to bring things to a close, but it’s a Mardi-Gras-like percussion-and-drums breakdown (with, of course, a touch of line noise) that ends this fascinating EP, reminding me of its main strength. Yes, there was a cowbell. And I could’ve used a little more of it.
Reviewed by: Chris Smith
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01