The cover photo for the Royal Arctic Institute’s latest album Accidental Achievement – streaming at Bandcamp – shows the utterly flavorless top section of a 1970s adobe-tinged concrete highrise apartment complex. If only we could have stuck with that kind of quality construction…then again, nobody’s ever going to live in those cheap plastic-and-glass highrises that are being thrown up by sleazeball developers to replace perfectly good brick buildings on seemingly every Manhattan and Brooklyn streetcorner. Seriously: somebody could get murdered there and nobody would ever know. The cinematic instrumental trio’s latest album has a similar sardonic edge. They’re playing Rough Trade on April 16 at 9 PM; $13 advance tix, which you can and should get at the box office at the back of the record store, are still available as of today
The album’s first track, Leaky Goes to Brooklyn hints at spacerock before bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Lyle Hysen start tiptoeing behind guitarist John Leon’s lingering noir lines; then he switches to pedal steel for a mournful southwestern gothic feel. Then the band completely flip the script with The Grubert Effect, switching coyly between hypnotic, insistent Raybeats attack and a loungey theme.
A shout-out to surrealist poet Raymond Roussel has a lingering, reverbtoned, strolling menace, the steel adding a big-sky wonder over the jangle and eventual roar below. Graveltoned bass soars over resonant steel in When Razors Were Works of Art, Leon savaging the upper registers with his guitar as the rhythm section stays chill.
The Lark Mirror is a steady, distantly bittersweet, conversational stroll highlighted by plaintive violin – it’s the album’s most haunting track. Frosted Tips sardonically channels Celtic balladry via Sonic Youth. The Vorth is an icily dreampop-tinged march, while Dear Mr. Bookman – a Joe Maynard shout-out, maybe? – is a surreal mashup of western swing and triumphant new wave stadium rock.
Dark Matter (Song for Randy Newman to Sing) slowly coalesces into a pastoral waltz that quickly shifts into cold, cinderblock postrock territory. The album winds up with the jaunty, jangly, Northern Progress Exploration Company, the missing link between Fairport Convention and maybe early zeros Hoboken instrumentalist the Subway Surfers. The album makes a good companion to this year’s highly anticipated forthcoming release by this era’s premier noir guitar soundtrack band, Big Lazy.