February 09, 2003

Pram "Dark Island"

Odd music maniacs delight! One of the truly weird bands this side of Meco have returned, and in so doing have graced us with their strongest album to date. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Pram have decided to grace us mere mortals with a record full of interstellar sounds, sneaky film soundtrack music, and all around loveable oddness. Ten years ago, they sounded like nothing out there; a decade on, they still sound as weird, with nobody even coming close to dethroning Pram from their self-created and self-imposed rule over the kingdom of Odd.

If you've never heard Pram, I suggest that you correct this void in your musical knowledge now. When they first appeared on the scene in the early 1990s, they were lumped together with other bands on their label, Too Pure. Unlike the fashionable weirdness of Stereolab, Pram were a confounding, frustrating band way back when. "What is this shit?" one young buck asked me back then, on hearing North Pole Radio Station blasting through the speakers of a long-since-gone record store. Though this comment has long been deemed irrelevant, Pram stand firm in their oddness, and in so doing, have hit a new peak of aural bliss.

From the space cantina shuffle of Dark Island opener "Track of the Cat," you, dear listener, are thrust into a world that is both past and future; music that's equally Mad Hatter's Tea Party and Star Wars seedy bar-band fare. What's odd about Dark Island, though, is when Rosie sings, Pram have an odd, Victorian preciousness (like the weird Syd Barrett-like "The Archivist); when Pram are instrumental, such as the serene "Sirocco," the band heads straight into 2525. Pram never, ever become less than pleasant, nor do they delve into that whole space-age novelty rut. Rosie's songs have a hint of sadness that the jazz-like instrumentals tend to gloss over. Songs such as "Distant Island" and "Goodbye" find Cuckston singing rather melodramatic lyrics in such a manner that not only gloss over how weird the lyrics are, but strike right at your heart. Written on paper, you'll say "what does she mean?" When heard in your ears, you'll know exactly what she means.

The fact that there's a Pram record in 2003 serves as an example of weirdness standing the test of time. While Dark Island is far from their most challenging work, it's a testament to how the times have changed. This is a post Kid A world, after all; what once was odd and off-putting is now accepted and revered. It's good to see that a band still stands firm, and it's even better to see how the world has changed and has become more accepting of such sounds. Dark Island is a nice reminder that weird doth not mean harsh.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: