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Published: 2003/11/28
by Jesse Jarnow

Subject To Change – RANA


After a good year or two of actively trying to will it out of their systems,
RANA have decided that they are a jamband again, and – I think – we're all
better off for it. The live Subject To Change features the same
swamp-punk Talking Heads-like rock that the band has been brandishing on
stage for the past two years, albeit with a new (and simultaneously old)
addition: a song called "Smile," by guitarist Scott Metzger. The disc's
12-minute centerpiece, the song – let's face it – sounds like "You Enjoy
Myself": a joyously composed epic that flits from section to section before
sweeping sweetly to an arena-sized frenzy. There's something profoundly
innocent about "Smile," a piece of music composed for the sake of itself,
that the band nails, despite having moved onto more adult territory since.

That stuff is there, too. In fact, that mix of naivetnd worldliness is
what makes RANA tick. They pull the tricks that jambands pull, though they
know when to draw the line. There are silly songs here, for example, like
"Carson Daly," a driving two-minute pogo-pop number from the band's mostly
dull first EP. But the point of "Carson Daly" isn't to make a reference to
the talk-show host, or even to get a laugh. He may have been the impetus, or
even an inside joke, but the song itself lacks nothing for drive. It's an
interesting contrast (and symmetry) to the disc-closing "Comin' Correct."
Like "Carson Daly," "Comin' Correct" is two minutes of pure pogo. Likewise,
there's a similar smack-talking swagger to it. But, where "Carson Daly" is a
hyper suburban goof, "Comin' Correct" is rooted in the kind of braggart
that's popular with bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes. Neither
are particularly "serious" statements, and both work for their own reasons,
but they do co-exist on RANA's album and, thus, in RANA's musical

Which is to say, if one wants to look at it as such, "Comin' Correct" and
"Carson Daly" reconcile two previously opposed viewpoints: the high status
cool of indie rock and the inclusive draw of jambands. This, in turn, opens
up a new space between the two, which is where RANA exist. Perhaps it's
immature for a band to have a song titled "900 Numbers," about the surreal
pleasure of calling sex lines, followed by a loping space-funk jam. But, if
that's true, then it's even more immature for somebody to pretend that he
was always as cool as he is now. It can be a challenge to admit to being a
serious dork in high school. And it can be a growing experience to
acknowledge that whatever it was that once appealed about dorky things (like
multi-sectioned guitar epics) still exists somewhere inside your makeup.
Subject To Change captures this nicely.

The problem with RANA's first EP, Your Brain Will Change, is that the
grooves sounded lazy. This is still a problem sometimes for the band, as it
is a problem for many jambands. Though it is a more recent tune, "Some Kind
of Girl" suffers slightly from this, as does the jam in "900 Numbers,"
though the former succeeds in sounding more sensuous than lazy. When playing
a short number, like the disc-opening "Loves It, Automatic," there is an
inward-looking rhythmic focus that is inherent in the arrangement, where
each moment is packed in with a tension. When playing a song like "900
Numbers," when there is a jam to come, a different timing has to slip into
the band's playing — not just because they need to pace themselves for an
improvisation, but because there is a built-in uncertainty. This isn't bad,
of course, but it informs the song with an entirely different kind of
emotional content. No matter how well a band can play a song, the coming
unknown trumps any confidence they might have. Thus, a jamband might turn
out the most crafted pop song ever written, but it would sound utterly bunk
if there was a jam at the end — which is why it's good that "900 Numbers"
is a silly song. Because it would sound even sillier if it wasn't.

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