January 12, 2005

Rapider than Horsepower "Rapider Than The World"

At first, I thought that Rapider than Horsepower was an unwieldy band name. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t saying ‘Faster than Horsepower’ be a bit simpler?” After a while, though, the band’s choice of an uncommon synonym stopped sounding stupid and started sounding cool after I got used to it. Unsurprisingly, I had a similar reaction to their music. There are loose ends scattered all over their latest mini-album Rapider than the World. Two of the songs end in tacked-on 10-minute drones, and many of the others are bridged together by segues of random studio chatter --- at one point, you can even hear the band needlessly activating the smoke detector. Then, there are the actual SONGS, which constantly toe the line between dense and cluttered. After multiple listens, though, Rapider than Horsepower prove themselves to be an immensely original and talented band, and their music suddenly stops being difficult and starts being FUN.

Opening salvo “Hungry Eyes” is a minute-long sonic pimp-slap that will alienate most listeners right off the bat. All of the elements of this band’s sound are in full force as soon as drummer Rob Smith whacks his snare. Mike Dixon and Chris Sargoe play the kind of terminally bent guitars I haven’t heard since the last Swirlies record. Later on in the mini-album, they make “Guitars and Drums” sound like I’m listening to a warped record instead of a CD. In every song, their playing is fleet-fingered enough to compensate for the absence of a bassist. Violinist Greg Dixon contributes leaping melodies straight off of a Mahavishnu Orchestra record. Last but not least, Mike Anderson rides the music with a nasal, unmelodic yelp that is quite rap-like in its delivery.

Anderson’s voice is the very thing that makes Rapider than Horsepower an acquired taste. On “Now It’s Deserted,” he slithers over his band mates’ accompaniment with a quivering falsetto and wordless banshee wails that sound like a demon-possessed version of US Maple’s Al Johnson. Anderson smothers “Whose Ego? My Ego?” with so many words than when he wails, “Talk, talk, talk all I want to/I never go away,” you start to believe him! The lyrics to this song find every possible metaphor for being annoyingly ubiquitous (“I’m a 15-foot tall concrete building blocking what’s up ahead,” “I’m a poster child for overexposure”). “Mike Bell” is a Modest Mouse-like rant about a hedonistic night out on the town in which Anderson’s voice actually approximates a melody. Ever the subversive type, he ends the song with a head-scratching interpolation of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen.”

Anderson takes such control over the music that the band’s decision to forego a bassist ends up making sense: if one more sound were added to the mix, the whole thing would sound like a hot mess (that is, if it doesn’t already). Like many tone-deaf front men before him, he compensates for his lack of singing ability by being an incisive lyricist. He begins “Guitars and Drums” with an insult that should be used against uptight people all over the world: “Do you hate to breathe in oxygen/or is that how your face always looks?” “A Little Something for the Naysayers and Player Haters” serves as both a condemnation and a defense of bands that compromise their music to make money (“This song is not me/Help me sell out/I need my gas turned on”). “Wonder Why?” chastises people whose fear of the unknown keeps them from questioning the forces at work behind their own lives (“We just take/and we live/Despite what’s said, it’ll go to waste/don’t even try”). Anderson’s penmanship on the foldout booklet is just as unhinged as his vocals, which makes deciphering his lyrics even more fun.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for bands that sound like the musical equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Regardless, Rapider than Horsepower clearly know what they’re doing, and I like it. If their live show is anything like their records, I impatiently await the next time they come to Texas.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.rapiderthanhorsepower.com
Label Website: http://www.alonerecords.com

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