Monday, 11 February 2013

Rational Hauntings Make For Brutal Brilliance

Ben Thompson has been a veritable mainstay on the Brisbane music scene for over a decade now. Seriously? Dude, that sounds insane, but it’s true. And whilst his Pale Earth electronica guise is starting to get a workout, and it all kicked off from Toowoomba band The Autumn Giants, the vast majority of that decade has been spent on the ever-evolving musical quest that is The Rational Academy. Three albums and a multitude of recorded material under their belt; a carousel of partners-in-crime; successful tours of Japan; some illustrious support slots (Deerhoof, Grails, Grouper). There was a stage in the mid 2000s where I'm pretty sure I saw them four times in a month – and that is probably an understatement. Saturation, clandestine, flirting with the breakthrough, shirking the mainstream – they have done it all. But for the true advocates of the band, it has been intriguing watching The Rational Academy grow in its amorphous way, the emotions riding on each track, release, performance open for all to see like a flayed cadaver. Choose to view this journey with the impassioned glaze of a disillusioned coroner, or the fascinated gaze of the biology enthusiast – either way, Thompson has never kept things close to his chest, for better or worse.

Which is why seeing Winter Haunts as a minor masterpiece isn’t a flippant remark. The gradual move from elegiac indie rock that revelled in its wispy delicacies as much as poignant pauses or therapeutic tremors, to a denser, more brutal sense of catharsis, is the result of a man who is throwing everything at the wall – not to see what sticks, but because he’s sick of second-guessing. Thompson’s vocals remain as hushed and reverent as ever, yet rather than the music crowding around it and buoying it up, it crashes over the top like a tidal wave of static destruction, an aural razing of the landscape. This louder approach doesn’t drown out the nuances of the songwriting though – rather it helps to embody the desperation that these songs hold at its core, and The Rational Academy have never felt more relevant, more alive – more there – in any of their other incarnations.

The musicians – Luke Zahnleiter (Guitar), Tom Roche (Drums) and Matthew Cooke (Bass) – hold a lot of responsibility for this, their performance preferring that denser soundscape that colours the songs in thick, abrasive swathes of darkness and light. ‘Vast Uncertain’ holds down the brutal drone of early Boris, no easy feat indeed. And although ‘End Of The Year’ may feel like a heavier squalling interpretation of Swans-era RA, when you hear ‘Yellow Pony’, if you didn’t get it before, the penny will drop here – their best all-round effort ever, it’s the entire history in a three-and-a-half minute soundbyte. Thompson hasn’t been stronger, and his presence is the calm before – nay, within – the storm. It shows the band breaking free of the carapace of the past and becoming something altogether different – harsher, yes, but therein lies the beauty.

If you finish with the acoustic wistfulness of ‘I Catch The Warmth’, you will feel yourself torn asunder by the wall of feedback that completes this epic sojourn, walking into the blinding light to disappear. Will this be a defining moment in their career? Is it a resurrection? A martyrdom? An ascension? No one knows, least of all Thompson himself. But something tells me that this won’t be the last we hear from him in this guise – and I wait with bated breath for his next reincarnation.

You MUST buy Winter Haunts(through Lofly Records) – the fullness of this sound is never more noticeable than on the purple vinyl – get it here! There won’t be many shows (if any) in this lineup for the foreseeable future, and when you put this record on, you will realise what a shame that is – but, as I said, the next manifestation will bring us something new. I can’t wait.

The Rational Academy – Yellow Pony
The Rational Academy - End Of The Year

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