May 18, 2005

The Robot Ate Me "On Vacation"

Ryland Bouchard wanted to make a political record. He wanted to make a record that discussed the separation of music and politics. He wanted to discuss his opinions towards religion (read: Christianity). He wanted to discuss his feelings towards war. He wanted to make pop music. Well, he did just that, and in 2004, he released his two-CD opus, On Vacation, which is seeing a reissue from his new label 5 Rue Christine. (Though, to be fair, both CD's have a running time of twenty minutes, so the two-disc concept makes it seem heavier than it actually is.)

The first thing you'll notice is the music. The Robot Ate Me is nothing if not creative, and the music runs between standard folkie indie-pop to modern takes on 1930s-era big band music. Volume One is a quirky set; with political songs about world diplomacy that sound like Glenn Miller ("Genocide Ball") Disney cartoon music ("Oh No! Oh My! (1994)," "Crispy Christian Tea Time") and songs about consumerist culture that sound downright odd ("You Don't Fill Me Up The Same"). Volume Two is much more straightforward, and it's very pretty, too. "The Red-Headed Girl" and "Apricot Tea" are simply beautiful songs that lose the political bent and have a much more romantic feel; with his pensive singing, Bouchard's voice adds an innocence that is not only unique but also quite refreshing. The boy is clever with his words, and his instrumental choices are quite unique.

Then there's the politics. I'll be flat out and say that I don't agree with his views on religion. He falls victim to the trap of many artists who attempt a political diatribe, and he sinks to making crude, overwhelmingly offensive statements based on stereotypes and prejudices (Jesus and Hitler having sex in a taxi, making a comparison to the Holocaust as "this year's Jesus Christ Murder Marathon," referring to Christians as barbarians and persecutors), which only reduces his commentary to nothing more than singing to an audience that's going to approve of what he has to say and alienating those whose disagree with him or find his imagery offensive. It's not that his message is too harsh or shocking to absorb, it's just that it's occasionally too offensive to be effective. Note to Ryland: the objective is to change the minds of those who disagree with you, and you'll never change the world if you're insulting them or their faith.

It's a lofty goal, making a political statement. On Vacation is a great-sounding record with terribly flawed (and at times downright hateful) lyrics by a young man who would do best to escape the political cliches that close doors and minds to change. Maybe instead of trying to make a statment about the division between music and politics, maybe he should try to understand just why the two do not mix. It cannot be denied that On Vacation is a beautiful record, but his "shocking" political statements ultimately taint the beauty.

--Joseph Kyle

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