RANA/Lake Trout, Maxwell’s, Hoboken, New Jersey- 7/8
NYC ROLL-TOP: Praise Zeus!
I love RANA's Here In The USA. I love Lake Trout’s Another One
Lost. I think they're two of the finer albums that this scene has
produced, and certainly the two best albums that have come out of it in the
past year. Neither of them jam, per se, but – to my ears – both of them
capture the creative spirit of what it means to be a group informed by the
act of playing live.
Both discs are filled with, of all things, angst – maybe even a little
cynicism – but both are also redeemed through cathartic arcs that, on some
level, are no different from something that any self-respecting boogie band
would pull off. The gestures are the same – loud music that you can get
drunk and dance to – but the spirit is different. Both RANA and Lake Trout
feel like they're actually working through something — as if there's
something to be gained through performance.
The two bands began a four night mini-tour at Maxwell's in Hoboken on Monday
night. In the past, I've made the mistake of calling RANA a rock band — or,
at least, inferring that they draw more from the current garage-rock revival
than anything else. Certainly, they take a lot from that. There's something
different about their attack, though, that I didn't really pick up on until
I heard Here In The USA.
Bands like The Strokes and The Hives are willful primitives. There's
something snotty in their simplicity. RANA guitarist Scott Metzger doesn't
thrash his guitar enough to be even remotely cheeky. I think he's too well
house broken, too well informed by years of soloing. Throughout the album,
his guitar tone is almost soft as he runs through textured arpeggios
that melt into arena rock riffing. In some ways, RANA is basically a jamband
take on garage rock. That's not to say it's watered down, just that it might
not get your hip-ass indie-rock listening roommate's rocks off as much as
In Hoboken, their songs were filled with the cool rhythmic quirks and
synchronicities that can only come from a band playing live and really
listening to each other. Songs like "My One Dear Son" and "Remember My
Address", as well as newer numbers like "Loves It Automatic", had the band
hitting nearly syncopated fills — little musical asides between the drums
and the guitar, or the lead and backing vocals, or an ambient keyboard part
and the rhythm section. They are little conversations that the band has been
refining, maybe even unconsciously, on the road. They're nifty, and they
create a real forward motion within the songs — the kind of thrust usually
provided by improvisation.
Of course, there's their shtick, too. Scott Metzger still pooches his lips.
Andrew Southern still waves his hair around. Matt Durant still does his
slightly dorky David Byrne/Lou Reed frontman thing. But Metzger still jams,
Southern still tucks his pick neatly under the pickguard of his bass, Durant
still plays the Rhodes and cracks silly jokes. They, like Lake Trout, just
happen to draw on contemporary influences as reference points instead of the
usual James Brown/Bill Monroe thing. Their music is still an open puzzle.
Lake Trout's got a shtick, too. I think a big part of their appeal will
always be guitarist Ed Harris's haircut — which, like their sound, is
perpetually up-to-date and hip. At the moment, he looks a bit like the kid
from About A Boy. Recently – both live and on Another One Lost – they've been getting better and better at packing real emotional punches
into their minimalist loop-based songs. They, too, are somewhat in the midst
of the rock thing — but, unlike RANA, it'd be a bit hard to mistake them
for, y'know, a rock and roll band. They play too few notes.
A typical song will have each band member playing one riff — four or five
notes, tops. He will play the same riff for the whole song. The joy and
genius of it comes in how they play the riff and how it fits in with
what the rest of the band is doing. Tension is created by bandmembers
dropping out, changing their attack, or altering their tone. It's actually
amazingly emotional puzzling out how the different pieces of a given song
fit together, like a drunk trying to figure out why she doesn't love him
while simultaneously trying to coordinate his limbs and digits into getting
the keys out of his pocket and getting the door open. There is, of course,
triumph when that finally occurs.
At Maxwell's, they pulled off quiet songs without announcing the fact.
Harris would be playing two notes, Woody Ranere would be breathing a
falsetto whisper into the mic, and drummer Mike Lowry would be thwapping
mutedly and somehow – even though nobody at the bar stopped drinking or
talking or smoking – it would be quiet and still in the room — a frozen,
contemplative moment in the middle of a chaotic scene. Throughout the set,
throughout the album, Lake Trout honed in on these moments during songs like
"Her", "Holding". Even harder driving songs, like "Bliss" and "Sounds From
Below", found themselves sounding like thoughtful flashbacks to earlier
RANA and Lake Trout are two of the best, most
mature bands this scene has to offer at the moment — drawing from the
contemporary without pandering and playing bitchin' live shows without
hitting lowest common denominator grooves. Both turn in layered performances
on a regular basis. Though both (especially Lake Trout) have moved towards
increasingly high status music, neither has yet made any moves towards
abandoning the simple notion of playing live shows. Praise Zeus.
Yes, Jesse Jarnow just praised