Every once in a great while, you hear a record that is simultaneously
fresh and familiar. Like a really hot shower or a shot of
espresso, the music is shocking and comforting at the same
time. I donít think thereís a better feeling. Most humans
I know, including myself, are instinctively drawn to that
which is most familiar and comfortable, and it takes a supreme
effort for them to push themselves into alien territory, even
when they know that the change might be invigorating. The
best way to get people to try something new is to incorporate
enough stuff thatís not so new. And thatís what Railerís
debut album, Frame Of Mind, is all about.
Speaking of invigoration, as I sit here sweating through
another obscenely hot Colorado summer day, the electric ceiling
fan pathetically spreading the heat around my house, I think
a trip to Anchorage, Alaska sounds really invigorating. Iíve
never been to Alaska and I donít know anything about it, but
I imagine it would be cool and serene right about now. While
Iím there, Iíll definitely make a point of stopping by Randall
Scottís house to shoot the proverbial breeze about
the world we live in and life in general. Scott is the mastermind
behind Anchorageís Railer, a band whose live lineup is constantly
shifting to help realize Scottís musical vision. On their
new record, Scott and Gabe Castro are the only
musicians, producers, and writers credited. Their press suggests
that Paul Jacks and Seth Blankenship
(both thanked in the recordís liner notes) might play keys
and drums respectively, while Shawn Flanigan
might play bass. Itís a bit of a mystery.
But what isnít a mystery is why Railer is building a fervent
following in places far from their remote headquarters. Frame
Of Mind is that delightful combination of the familiar
and the alien. A lot of this music reminds me of the New Wave
and "modern rock" music that first caught my ear
in the late 70s and early 80s. The music is full of the paradoxes
that characterized much of that music: electronic textures
blended effortlessly with standard rock instrumentation, emotional
lyrics delivered with a wry detachment, black turtlenecks
with hearts sewn on the sleeves. Railer cites Depeche
Mode, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead,
and Garbage as influences, but I also hear Psychedelic
Furs, early Cure, and maybe Split Enz
(by the way, faithful covers of the Pumpkinsí "Cherub
Rock" and Radioheadís "Fake Plastic Trees"
are available on the bandís website). A friend of mine even
asked if I was listening to Janeís Addiction
(itís the voice).
Lest I spend too much time on the "familiar" side
and give the impression that Railer is simply New Wave redux
(far from it), perhaps I should give a little attention to
what makes Railer unique. First of all, thereís that voice.
Scottís lead vocals are chameleonic, adapting constantly to
the colors of the song. He is capable of everything from a
quiet croon to a nasal chant to a Corgan-esque squawk.
And, yes, at times, thereís a little bit of Thom Yorke
in him (isnít there a little in each of us?). Then thereís
the interplay between the crunchy rock-n-roll rhythm guitars
and the sometimes-sinister sometimes-ethereal keyboard lines.
The drums all sound programmed and range from dubby grooves
to Godflesh-style rock/industrial beats. Finally, there
are Scottís lyrics. Alternating between wide-eyed idealism
and world-weary skepticism (and occasionally lapsing into
willful inscrutability and/or melodrama), the lyrics on Frame
Of Mind convey all the complexity of life in the brave
new world of the 21st century.
The album opens with the idealistic love song, "Blues
vs. The Stars". This track contains many of the elements
that youíll come to identify as Railer signatures: the aforementioned
guitar/keyboard counterpoint, overdubbed vocal harmonies,
and a truly contagious melody. The shift to "Kiss Fix",
the albumís second track, is a bit of shock. Thereís a Schifrin-esque
60s spy movie feel to the hook, while the vocal melody wouldnít
be out of place on a Faint record. And where "Blues"
is a straightforward love song, "Kiss Fix" is a
slightly sleazy lust song (All I needís your body/Someone
to touch me). The next track, "Crossing The Line",
is one of the highlights of the album. Its head-bobbing groove
and sing-a-long chorus will embed themselves in your brain
and remain long after youíve listened to the rest of the album.
Skipping ahead to the understated centerpiece of the album,
"Theory As To What Is Beautiful", we find a quiet,
haunting song about the persistence of human relationships
in spite of all else. The drums are at their most unabashedly
electronic, the keyboard pads repeat a simple figure, the
vocals barely rise above a whisper, and the guitar is only
present to supply a subtle bent-note motif. This is followed
by "A Part Of You", a wonderful Sturm und Drang
romp that could just as easily have come out of Trent
Reznorís home studio in 1990 as it did from Randall
Scottís basement studio in 2002.
These are just a few of the ten great songs on Frame Of
Mind, each of which is notable and memorable in its own
right. The album is a real crowd-pleaser with a little something
for everyone. My only complaint (and Iím picking nits here)
is the track sequence, particularly of the last half of the
record. "If We Could Be", the albumís second-to-last
track, would have made a much better closer than "When
I See You Again", which ends the record on a note that
is slightly too upbeat. But, as Iíve said, Iím picking nits.
From start to finish, Railer delivers a high-quality product
that is as ambitious as it is accessible. And it is, by far,
the best record Iíve heard from Alaska this year.
OK, so itís the only one.
ó Eryc Eyl
- Blues vs. The Stars
- Kiss Fix
- Crossing The Lines
- Deja Vu
- Theory As To What Is Beautiful
- A Part Of You
- Minor Dream
- If We Could Be
- When I See You Again
in the webboard
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!