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Published: 2003/12/29
by Jesse Jarnow

Carbohydrates – RAQ


To answer Frank Zappa’s question: of course humor belongs in music.
As such, there is plenty of that on RAQ’s Carbohydrates, as songs
like "Brother From Another Mother" amply demonstrate. It’s humor, for sure,
but what kind of humor? Presumably, RAQ doesn’t want to be known as
comedy/novelty music, despite the fact that most of their lyrics are
intentionally silly (and those that aren’t don’t fare much better), nor
would they include densely composed wankouts like the minute-long "The
Hunter Becomes The Hunted."

"Brother From Another Mother" is the kind of title that could be included on
a fusion album, a cute little wordplay tagged to a jazz tune (like, to pull
random examples, Miles Davis’s "Yesternow," or The Headhunters’ "Pork
Soda"). But, where those song titles seemed like afterthoughts slapped on
thoughtful pieces of music, RAQ’s song is based entirely around its lyrical
premise. Even worse is the completely vapid "Sweet Cream Butter," a slow-jam
parody which seems to have no redeemable qualities whatsover — an extreme
example of humor coursing through a song like a poison and eradicating any
nasty musical content that might have been there. It’s just four-and-a-half
minutes of middling lite grooves and some attempts at parody that aren’t
nearly as funny as Beck’s comparable "Debra" (which, in addition to being
hilarious, somehow also succeeds in being sincere and sexy, taboot). "Sweet
Cream Butter" doesn’t even seem an excuse to jam.

In fusion, not to mention close relatives like Zappa and Phish (who RAQ
don’t want to be compared to; I wouldn’t deign), the humor is an
afterthought, something to tie together ideas. Occasionally, RAQ delve into
hyper-speed composition, such as on [track 11], where the four band members
suddenly play in very fast unison. But, for the most part, this is sterile
music. The writing doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, nor does it seem to be
invested with any particular emotion (other than the aforementioned vague
humor). There is little improvisation, nor do they demonstrate much
communication (besides being able to play very fast). Much of it sounds like
God Street Wine or even Encephalous Crime-era Disco Biscuits.

Humor, in the jamband scene, has essentially become a conservative impulse.
There is no longer any rebellion in being silly, and – therefore – there is
nothing challenged. What’s more troubling – since, Lord only knows,
rebellion isn’t the only thing music can do – is that it becomes an excuse
not to develop one’s own voice. (Actually, that is kinda funny.) Any one of
RAQ’s failures could be solved by exploring something personal and
idiosyncratic, something that nobody else does, something that seems to be
borne from the basic essence of who they are as musicians. There are no
moments on Carbohydrates where RAQ feel purely and unquestionably
themselves. Whether this is because they never put their guard down or
whether they have already opened themselves up and revealed nothing… well,
I suppose we’ll find out.

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