Know Your Product
Dustin Wong explores inner space while Rakkasan marries hooks to heaviness
Published: September 29, 2010
Infinite Love’s cover image is a colorful if spare rendering of Wong sitting in a chair with a guitar, looking down at a small handful of effects and looping pedals—an image anyone who has seen the former Ponytail guitarist perform solo in the past few years will recognize as the artist at work. And if cover art is ever meant to describe a record’s contents, this is it: the compact, even meek figure composing within his own headspace and on the fly, coaxing a wide palette of color, texture, and mood from just that instrument with a bit of tech help. More concretely, it tells or warns you that what you’re getting into is a necessarily live project: no studio or recording tricks, no computer screens. Maybe even some jamming.
There is a bit of information that Wong would like you to know as well, which is indicated in his handwritten scrawl in the liner notes. This is a two-disc record, yes, but there’s a bit more “why” to it. Each disc is one song, but the CDs are cut up into tracks, and many of them feel like tracks with somewhat definite beginnings and endings. Each of the songs/discs begins from the same simple guitar pattern, and ends with the same screeky coda. It’s to be taken as two versions of one piece.
The vastness in between that long introduction and the eventual coda is largely different—Wong makes a point of getting from A to B within a piece of music, which is also a comment on the nature of jamming itself. There is jamming that is wandering for its own sake—what noodling is—and there is jamming that is going somewhere. And not just going somewhere, but creating that somewhere.
In a sense, Infinite Love becomes about building and contextualizing moments. You may go back through each disc and notice that many tracks are exactly the same length and that they sound exactly the same. It’s in these explorations that you may start to notice just how well two similar tracks set up two following, yet quite different, tracks. As Wong notes, “I hope the music feels like it comes from you.” By breaking up the songs on the CDs, Wong suggests that you’re allowed to do more than play Infinite Love; you’re allowed to play with it, rearranging the pieces as you like.
Of course, what’s the point of making a conceptual statement if no one wants to listen to the thing? Fortunately, Infinite Love is a pleasure to absorb, a wide strata of melody and melodies strung from other melodies. Sometimes they come together in dense packages of sound, but it’s mostly all in Wong’s radiant guitar tone that he’s explored since his days with Ecstatic Sunshine.
Not that, put back-to-back, Infinite Love can’t be an imposingly long record. It’s still a good listen as such, but perhaps more satisfying as an interactive experience. Fortunately, you get MP3s along with the vinyl, so you can have your nearly two rich hours of guitar shimmer—and even some darker guitar groan on the second disc—or you can spend some time exploring more deeply. A worthy endeavour either way. (Michael Byrne)
For more information visit thrilljockey.com.
Strangest Feeling EP
Formed—or sundered, you might say—following the dissolution of Baltimore experimental outfit Heroin U.K. and the departure of frontman Tony Hays, Rakkasan doesn’t represent a radical departure for the remaining trio of musicians. Guitarist Vince Agro continues to serve meaty, quintessentially rock ’n’ roll riffs whole and effects-pedal puréed. And Mick Short’s piling-like bass lines and Alex Strama’s dependable backbeats anchor the unit’s scruffy, scuffed sound. Now, however, all three take turns damning the microphone, and sound more willing to reach beyond the gloomy, mid-tempo psych-rock jams that were Heroin U.K.’s bread and butter. Strangest Feeling, Rakkasan’s 15-minute debut EP, has one foot in the past and the other in the future.
That Rich Feinstein had a hand in producing, mixing, and engineering Feeling is telling: Feinstein’s group, Creepy Murdle, is among one of the more accessible bands in the MT6 stable. In Rakkasan’s world, hooks matter. Opener “It’s Over” may boast gratuitous echo filters and corrosive, mumbling asides that recall Brainiac’s Hissing Prigs in Static Couture—“They want to use your addictions/ They will abuse your afflictions”—but the barnstorming, gang-shouted chorus (“We say it’s not over, until it’s over”) slays, and Agro grinds out a mammoth, complicated, yet fist-pumping guitar figure that’s as winning as it is flattening.
Frantic gin-joint pianos add a startling volume and resonance to whammy-bar peyote blast “Born on the Outside.” The epic, murderously heavy “Ode to the Cosmic Warlords”—which made its debut during live Heroin U.K. shows—recalls Smashing Pumpkins’ mid-1990s forays into hefty, sinew-straining metal. But it feels even more punishing and gnarled, with cryptic imagery (“I have the strangest feeling/ Black wings swept up and creeping”) and massed, enthused “oh yeah” chants. These kinds of contradictions—the sinister and the ecstatic, the esoteric and the amenable—are at the heart of Rakkasan’s hybrid sound, a sound that could conceivably travel farther and better than its members’ other endeavors have. (Raymond Cummings)
For more information visit myspace.com/rakkasanmusic.