Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Rock Plaza Central - Are We Not Horses

Grade: A-

Download - My Children, Be Joyful

Yep Roc isn't exactly known for being a hip record label. Their output over the past few years has been pretty solid; it has included John Doe's Forever Hasn't Happened Yet, Robbie Fulks' recent live double album, some Nick Lowe discs, the duets record by Caitlin Cary and That Cockrell. But hip? Not particularly, at least among the Pitchfork set.

So when Rock Plaza Central arrived at my door, I wasn't expecting anything remotely edgy. But then I listened to it, and, well, damn if this shit isn't fucked up. It's not avant-garde or particularly experimental, but there's an dissonance to it that Yep Roc CDs usually lack. If you're like April , and you have a Neutral Milk Hotel-shaped hole in your heart, Are We Not Horses could fill that void as well as We All Have Hooks For Hands. (And by the way, I'll second the opinion that their debut The Pretender kicks some ass. Pick that one up.)

The phrase "off-kilter" comes to mind when listening to Are We Not Horses. The beats are steady, the arrangements are tight, but something about Rock Plaza Central is just pleasantly wrong. It's probably singer Chris Eaton, whose eerily accurate Jeff Magnum impression makes you wonder if the NMH singer started a side project. Or it might be John Whytock and Rob Carson, whose trumpets and trombones make you wonder if .... well, if they're guesting on an NMH side project. In short, this band sounds off-kilter because Neutral Milk Hotel was, understatedly, off-kilter.

These songs are uniquely good, however, especially "My Children, Be Joyful," whose triumphant, pulsing beat is enough to immediately improve your day. "When We Go, How We Go" starts as a mellow folk song and becomes something between a hymnal and a hootenanny. Eaton's voice is especially beautiful here, providing the perfect amount of earnestness.

This record's ballads and Modest Mouse-style stompers are equally passionate and exciting, which is a hard trick to pull off. Are We Not Horses is apparently some kind of rock opera involving robots (seriously), and while that's not apparent by casually listening to the lyrics, it's easy to believe. The fact that you don't notice the robot plotline right away is entirely fitting - Rock Plaza Central is much weirder than you think, and finding out just how weird they are is a distinct pleasure.
(David Brusie)

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Blogger Jon said...

Yep Roc co-released the Apples in Stereo record earlier this year. Surely that is hip enough?

By the way, yay site, we had a million posts today.

3:38 PM  

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