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Rats On Rafts
Tape Hiss Derek Robertson , October 19th, 2015 18:54

Brevity is a much-admired quality in punk and post-punk circles. A friend of mine with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Dutch underground, and who sings in a band, puts it thus: "Get in, get it done, get out. Two-and-a-half minutes for a song, twenty-five for a set. Why would you need more?" It's a pertinent question; from the Ramones to 'Teenage Kicks', from the Jam to the Buzzcocks, the most influential, snarling anthems recounting frustration and disaffected youth have rarely needed more than 150 seconds to punch you in the gut and frazzle the brain, short, sharp blasts that waste little time in hammering home their point and vacating the stage.

That said, recently, some bands have pushed against this, allowing songs to linger and blossom. Ought, perhaps the most acclaimed and skilled practitioners currently operating in this sphere, are masters at prolonging tension and interest; the totemic anthems that dominate their two records, 'Today More Than Any Other Day' and 'Beautiful Blue Sky', clock in at over five and seven minutes respectively, building, flowing, sustaining ideas. It's something that Rotterdam four-piece Rats On Rafts must have taken note of, for on Tape Hiss, their self-produced second album, they've largely abandoned the bursts of scratchy guitars and reggae-indebted rhythms of debut The Moon Is Big for something deeper, darker, and more drawn out.

Only two songs fail to make it past three minutes, and they're also the most disappointing; both 'Composition' and 'Powder Monkey' rush by, their busy din failing to leave much of an impression. The heart of the record lies instead in the longer tracks, resting on a sense of craft and patience that's rare in post-punk. Pacing is the key, as is judicious use of contrast, and nowhere is this more apparent – or effective – than 'Sleep Little Child'. Opening like a lullaby over a Duane Eddy-esque twang, it ends locked into a deep groove, the simple, repeated riff buried under a squall of reverb and feedback. It's the sound of a band knowing exactly when to hammer the accelerator, and readies the senses for everything to come.

"We'd rather release things we think are worthwhile," the band recently told MOJO when explaining why their ten years together has yielded only two records, and the more you listen to Tape Hiss, the more striking it becomes just how deeply they've thought about each and every element; the psychedelic haze of 'Seaside Tape Hiss', the bustling, come down anxiety of 'Zebradelic', how 'Last Day On Earth' incessantly builds momentum into not one, but two climaxes and sky-wide solos. Especially impressive is the way they play with texture and rhythm, locating a sweet spot between snarling chaos and poised precision, and building on the signifiers of the genre's forebearers.

Its non-linear structure and frequent detours – the concept of verse-chorus-verse is but a speck in their rearview mirror – only adds to the feeling that Rats On Rafts have the confidence to ditch convention and the talent to pull it off. Long feted as a visceral, enigmatic live band, they've captured some of that vitality in these eight songs. Closer '1-6-8 Machine', a tightly coiled juggernaut that gets faster and more furious as it speeds towards a crushing climax, amply demonstrates that in full flow, they can channel that explosiveness with a laser-like accuracy, like punk prophets of chaos conducting a storm. "The weirder the better," states their Bandcamp bio, but that's only half the story; in reconstructing their music to match the grand scale of their ambition, they've mapped out a whole new territory to explore, and Tape Hiss indicates it's going to be a hell of a ride.

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