2015, Music

Rabbit Rabbit Radio, Vol. 3 – Year of the Wooden Horse (2015) by Rabbit Rabbit

The third edition of Rabbit Rabbit Radio is different in conception than the first two. This time out, Kihlstedt and Bossi asked twelve guitarists to submit riffs to them, and then they’d build the songs.

The results are significantly different than the first two outings. If Volume 2 was “Rabbit Rabbit Goes Pop” then this is (mostly) “Rabbit Rabbit Rocks.” And though the basic guitar tracks aren’t necessarily obviously straightforward – though sometimes they are, sometimes they are all off the wall – the goal seems to have been to create something significantly more accessible than, say, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, as this music is borderline – I stress the “borderline” – mainstream rock, at times.

I realize that this is kind of ridiculous of me to say, as calling music like this “too accessible” is something only a music snob who listens to avant garde music would ever say but, alas, I can’t help my feelings.

“Whiff of Heaven” is based on a riff by Jeremy Flowers, who’s been in some bands I don’t know. It’s the first sign things are going to be different, as it’s catchy and crunchy and, as this band goes, very straightforward.

“The Promise” is written from a guitar figure by jazz guitarist Ava Mendoza. The line is weird, the song around it less so. But that being said, this is more in line with what I thought they were going to sound like when I read the concept. It sort of reeks of “jazz musicians” making rock music, but that’s something I’m okay with.

“Nokomis” started off with a simple riff from power pop bassist Chandler Travis, which explains why this is the straightest ahead, and most power poppy track they’ve ever recorded.

“Falling Awake” shifts gears, as it was submitted by Bossi’s Book of Knots bandmate Joel Hamilton. Much more in line with their initial sound, which shouldn’t be surprising given the track’s origin.

“Nameless” is the first of two collaborations with their Causing a Tiger bandmate Shahzad Ismaily, though obviously recorded very differently than that band’s music. There are minor echoes of Causing a Tiger but, again, the sense is more of a group of avant garde or jazz musicians recording rock music. There’s a hook which is immediately subverted by an awkward riff.

“The Perfect Abomination” is a Sleepytime Gorilla Museum reunion of sorts, featuring four of the five core members. It’s a sure sign of how everyone has mellowed over the years, but it remains one of the most interesting tracks in this collection.

“Moineau” comes from legendary avant rock guitarist Fred Frith and features vocals from, I must presume, the eldest of Kiihlstedt’s and Bossi’s children in addition to the couple themselves (lyrics are in French). It’s straightforward for Frith, but it’s a rare ballad and sort of succeeds in spite of the child’s vocals.

“All Over Again” is essentially just the band, as the riff was written by Jon Evans, who is essentially their third band member, playing on many of their songs since the very beginning. It’s another ballad that is distinguished for seemingly confessional lyrics.

“The Beautiful Blur” comes to them from chamber musician and film composer Mark Orton. It starts off seeming like some kind of minimalist ballad, but quickly turns into one of the most immediate rock songs in the collection, with nearly a hook for the chorus, which always comes as a bit of a surprise. The dobro and banjo (???) jam is a welcome addition.

“Rabbit Rondo” is Nels Cline’s contribution, the only instrumental on the record and one of the few songs that doesn’t clearly sound like an attempt from this band to sound like a proper, traditional rock band.

“Universal Elixir” is based on an absolutely bizarre, atonal riff by a guy named Marko Stojanovic; it is the most avant garde thing here and a good reminder that it’s okay to bridge these two worlds. It’s arguably the most purposefully weird track in the collection, and perhaps the least successful.

“Oblivious” is the second Causing a Tiger reunion. It’s the most immediate rock song on the album, one of their biggest stabs at more commercial music (or, at least, “rock”) and, frankly, it’s really growing on me.

“Morning Song” is a bonus track, just Rabbit Rabbit. A ballad reminiscent of Bossi’s ballads in the first volume.

As you can tell, the music really depends on which guitarist wrote the riff. This is an interesting thing that I appreciate the concept behind, though consistency is a bit of a problem – though this is hardly how people traditionally record albums. And I can’t help but still feel a determination to make more accessible music, to perhaps broaden their audience. And there will always be a bone in my body that resists that.

7/10

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