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Frame Of Mind
Resolute Records

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

Track Listing:

  1. Blues vs. The Stars
  2. Kiss Fix
  3. Crossing The Lines
  4. Deja Vu
  5. Theory As To What Is Beautiful
  6. A Part Of You
  7. Underbelly
  8. Minor Dream
  9. If We Could Be
  10. When I See You Again

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