Quirky Cinematic Themes From the Royal Arctic Institute
Today’s Halloween album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The French Method, by cinematic rock instrumentalists the Royal Arctic Institute. It’s not Halloweenish in any ordinary sense: the ghost in this machine is a friendly cartoon one rather than any genuinely malevolent spirit. The albums’s eleven tracks have a puckish sense of humor: wry references to Richard Strauss, Pink Floyd and a cheesy “classic rock radio” staple by the Who, among others, pepper these shapeshifting, enigmatic themes. The trio are playing tonight at around 9 PM, headlining an excellent triplebill at the Nest, 504 Flatbush Ave. at Lefferts Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens that starts at 7 with excellent southwestern gothic band And the Wiremen and continues with the envelopingly kinetic Wharton Tiers Ensemble. The venue’s webpage has no mention of the show, so if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and see what the deal is: you most assuredly won’t need tickets in advance. Be aware that starting late tonight, the Q train isn’t running this weekend, so you may have to take the 2 at President St. on the way home.
The album begins with Do the Kuchar, a cheery surf theme as Guided By Voices might do surf: straight-up. Guitarist John Leon throws some unsettled indie chords into the riffage for a late 90s Hoboken feel. The second track, Latonya Ripford has surreal, warpy Mary Halvorson-ish guitar tones lingering above Gerard Smith’s tiptoeing bass and Lyle Hysen’s drums, rising from a whisper to a Beatlesque stroll and a playful series of false endings.
Japanese Viperina begins as a twistedly strutting stripper theme, shifting to a powerpop stomp and then back. Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm, inspired by an unsolved World War II-era British murder, has more of that warpy, expansive, enigmatic guitar, rising to a sly series of texturally contrasting overdubs: it’s more enigmatic than creepy.
The album’s title track has a jangly, jazzy late 80s Britpop bounce: Happy Mondays with better chops. Maystadt Process – a reference to a sci-fi scenario concerning how to keep a body alive after the soul has departed – could be slow Big Lazy, Leon’s big-sky tremolo resonating over Smith’s incisive bassline and Hysen’s whispery brushwork.
Barack’s Mic Drop – a shout-out to a President who really earned his vacation time, according to the band – veers back and forth between cheery faux-soukous and Floydian spacerock. Similarly, Greely’s Ghost has a slow, reverbtoned sway akin to Big Lazy tackling a theme from side one of Dark Side of the Moon. And then it becomes Theme From an Indian Summer Place, so to speak.
The blithe swing of Bandersnatch contrasts with the album’s most epic track, Ludic Lovers, a slow, restless tune that offers barely a hint of the guitar savagery that lies in wait. The final cut is Transhumania, a twistedly twangy quasi-rockabilly theme and the album’s most overtly dark, cynical interlude.
Who is the audience for this? Film directors in need of quirky, eclectic scores, for starters. And the band work quickly: they’ve already got another album, Accidental Achievement, in the can, due for release later this month.