The long awaited follow-up to Mantis Preying is a many-feathered animal. Alvin Band produces a unique brand of experimental psych pop with a large emphasis on vocals - however, Rainbow Road is a departure from the vocal-ONLY Mantis Preying and delves into Rick Alvin Schaier's instrumental skills.
Before you even hear the album, if you ever played Mario you can see the tongue-in-cheek references right in the song names: Bowser's Castle, Dry Bones, Shells, King Boo, Vanilla Dome, and of course, Rainbow Road. I think it goes without saying that when you see something like that you have to second guess yourself as to what it is you're getting yourself into. Is this going to be some experimental-'funny'-chiptune mess of a nightmare? Re-workings of video game music? Your worst fears are confirmed by the organ intro and Nintendo lyrics talking about the castle, spikes, and the princess - until it explodes in a synth-heavy funky groove with voice overlaying, tactful reverb, ukeleles, and WHISTLING? Not only that, but it almost feels as if this (and the songs to come) have 'movements', if you will - there's a lot of loud/quiet contrast, with soft lullabies and hard rhythms working in tandem - but nothing sits still in one place for long, and before you know it, you're hearing the cheerful guitar intro and Rick's soulful falsetto that gets your head nodding. This thing is ridiculous.
Very early on, you may notice some familiar things. Like, oh I don't know, this guy sounds EXACTLY LIKE PANDA BEAR. The Animal Collective comparisons are rampant, some accusing him of 'copying' and 'ripping off' AnCo, which I do not believe are entirely valid. There's a definitely influence, sure, and his voice compared to Panda Bear is uncanny in its similarity. If anything, I'd say this is starting to sound a bit like Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is one small chapter in the Animal Collective story, which in itself is a highly debated and polarizing album among fans. Alvin Band sometimes exhibits a swelling maximalist style of mind blowing synths and funky percussion (punctuated by those Panda Bear yells), much like choice songs on MPP, as with the third track, 'Stanley Kubrick'. But, come on, twinkling bells, steel drum synths, a segment with nothing but piano? Alvin Band is coming from a different place, with a different goal in mind. Similar, yes. Ripoff? Slander.
The fourth song continues the delicate and airy piano interlude, with lots of sighing vocals lilting through the air. This kind of thing makes me wonder where the hell this album is going. The minute long movements are both appreciated and confusing. I've mentioned before that I am personally slightly biased towards albums where every song sounds different - I am firmly entrenched in the idea that, musically, variety is the spice of life, which this album is certainly delivering in spades. But the flow seems a little odd and it can definitely throw you off when you get into a portion of a song only to have it flip around on you and do something entirely different twice over before it's done. Taking a step back, the album as a whole seems like it's sort of struggling to keep the balance between lively, interesting flickers of inspiration, and cohesiveness. It never goes too far in one direction but on rare occasions it can just seem like a jumble. But 'Transcendental Meditative Mutant Ninja Turtles' is a celebration of the peak of the aforementioned balance: a down low beat with echoing vocal harmonies that all at once, sync into a smart rhythm that shows of his vocal range and control. It doesn't go too far out into chaotic territory and retains a common melody before ending in a frantic cabaret. Then, immediately, I burst out laughing - smack dab in the middle of a psych chamber pop acappella kaleidoscope is a ridiculous off-course stoner anthem called 'Crazy High'. One of the cheesiest songs I've ever heard, with shimmering guitars, an 80's saxophone out of nowhere, nudge-inducing lyrics such as 'Just a little goes a long way, I must say... I believe in magic, do you believe in magic?' Funny thing is, IT WORKS. It's refreshing to see this caliber of creative tongue-in-cheek humor combined with such talented songwriting and musicianship.
However this album is not without its bum notes, sadly. 'Shells' starts out promising as a pleasant floating ditty transformed into a detailed description of the physics of blue shells from Mario Kart, but the "Shells shells shells I'mtalkinbout shells shells shells sh-sh-shells shells shells" is repetitive and slightly abrasive. I'm further disappointed to hear the next tune consists mostly of "King Boo Boo Boo King Boo Boo Boo he is spooky spooky spooky" with the same boom-boom percussion that dominates 'Shells'. What happened here? This is an album so jam packed full of ideas, yet he made two practically identical songs and placed them one after the other. It comes off arduous and smacks of filler, but thankfully due to the album's constantly-shifting nature it quickly shoots off into another direction.
By the last track, I can say this is definitely a resounding success at sucking you into its world - I feel constantly interested, by this time I'm pretty much on the edge of my seat wondering what's gonna come out of this next. Rarely am I truly engaged with ears forward, rarely does something feel like a breath of fresh air, something new and exciting. It's a respectable body of work that also appeals to your memories and sense of humor. Whether he can iron out the kinks or not is anyone's guess, but either way, Alvin Band has definitely earned my attention.
Here's some samples.
Here's the album. (320) (re-upped)
Here's the last.fm.
Here's the site.
Decide for yourself.