Monday, 9 June 2008

The Rational Academy, Do The Robot @ Rics (6.6.08)

Do The Robot are a funny band. They're one of the most warm and soothing bands I can think of (in a kind of cold, detached way), while also having the ability to be weirdly grating. They released their debut album a few months back (Amp On Fire, which this post will kind of be reviewing while simultaneously discussing their show on Friday), and this event has caused me to re-evaluate my stance on the band. The first time I saw them they struck me as potentially brilliant shoegaze/pop band, and while that's still the case for the most part, the record shone a light on one particular flaw that had previously been largely hidden in live performance; namely, Sera's vocals.

I'm not saying she can't sing, in fact I think she has quite a good voice - it's strong while still fitting in with the hypnotic sound of band really well. The thing about it that irks me is that pet peeve of mine, the Fake American Accent. Sera is probably the worst offender of this I've ever heard - worse than Patience of The Grates, worse than Ross Hope of Iron On. Both of those vocalists are backed by tight, energetic, concise playing and songwriting that takes some of the focus off their singing on onto the music behind them (plus you get the feeling that they can't really help singing like that). This isn't the case to the same extent with Do The Robot - their songs are largely quite sparse and repetitive, giving plenty of time to pay close attention to the vocals.

Ninety percent of the time it's not a problem, but there are occasions where it pretty much ruins a song. Take the track 'Audrey', where Sera sounds like a 20year-old Kim Gordon. Actually, she sounds EXACTLY like a 20year-old Kim Gordon. This may not seem like much of a problem to a lot of people, but the thing is that Kim Gordon is a pseudo-beatnik New Yorker - Sera isn't. Her accent comes across as overly affected and therefore somewhat insincere, which then has the effect of breaking the spell that's so well created by the the hypnotic guitar and drums.

I guess this is another case of me being overly picky with a really good band. I actually REALLY like Do The Robot, which is why I find them to be such a frustrating listen every now and then. Matt's guitar parts are often really well written, injecting a deceptive amount of melody into what are often two- or three-chord progressions. The drums parts (played live on record and usually played via a backing track or drum machine live) are generally lively and inventive, turning music that could be somewhat 'samey' into something much more vital. And, despite my previous comments, Sera's vocals are usually dependably melodic and vibrant. The band has a real knack for taking a limited amount of elements and wringing every last drop of musicality from them over the course of some lengthy compositions. While some might find the band to be somewhat 'boring' (as the album's reviewer from Rave did), others will find their minimalist compositions subtly beautiful and enveloping.

As long as you don't mind the accent. Hey, it seems like I'm the only person who is bothered by it.

The Rational Academy, on the other hand, have been around for long enough for pretty much everyone to have made up their mind regarding the band. Generally speaking, you already know whether or not you like their brand of noisey indie-pop. While they've experimented with various additions to and offshoots from their core sound, they still play music with the same basic blueprint they started with - walls of discordant guitars, soft boy/girl vocals, big drums, pop songs married to feedback and white noise. The only real change is that over the years the band have gotten much better at doing it. There was a time where it was pretty much guaranteed that one song per set was going to fall apart somehow, whether it was due to poor sound or a broken guitar pedal or the band simply losing its way. Not anymore. These days The Rational Academy are a well-oiled machine, consistently putting on good performances.

This was a good performance. Despite the distraction provided by the next-door venue's outdoor dance tent (wtf?), the band was able to put together a more-than-solid set consisting largely of songs from the recent A Heart Against Your Own, plus a few more (presumably) from the soon-to-come follow up album. Starting out with the epic 'Squid & Whale', other highlights included 'Beach Party' (dedicated to Before Hollywood - nice!) and 'Two Books', which was slowed considerably from the recorded version, and in the process came across as far more powerful. The set concluded with a suitably immense guitar version of 'Turin' (hey RA dudes: you should seriously consider putting this version of the song out, if you're not already).

Also, FWIW, the band played an even better - though somewhat shorter - set the next night at the Tongue & Groove (and were kind enough to wish Happy 21st Birthday to 'Sam', who was celebrating her big night with a bunch of noise-bands thanks to a venue double booking... though I have a feeling Sam and the vast majority of her friends had long vacated the band area in favour of the outdoor part of the venue, where it was considerably quieter).

PS: Yes, I know that I reviewed both of these bands together a few months ago when they supported Mum, but I figured that this show warranted a post considering we hadn't reviewed the Do The Robot album. Also, the next live review will feature two bands who haven't yet been discussed by Before Hollywood.


Anonymous said...

I see, I see. There's nothing intrinsicly wrong with what you've said here. It's just that I respectfully reserve the right to disagree with you when I say these bands are just carbon copies of other bands that are more famous.

Anonymous said...

You're right about the accent thing, I notice that too. Bring on Drones/Tim Rogers treatment I say.

Anonymous said...

when did this website become a rational academy fansite? Song dedications..... excuse me while i hurl.

Am i the only one in the world who thinks this band is the most ordinary, overrated band in the city?

Cam said...

just to explain the song dedication bit: before hollywood is putting together a bit of a project, and the rational academy are involved (along with about 40 other brisbane bands). that's why we were mentioned by them during their set.

as for the rest... this isn't supposed to be objective.

Anonymous said...

No you are not the only person who thinks the rational academy is the most ordinary , overrated band in brisbane. I do too!!!.
I have seen them countless times and they continue to be so conservative and boring. And yes this website has become a suckarse fansite for them.

Cam said...

you guys are just lucky turnpike don't play more / release more records. then you'd REALLY see some fanboyism.

Anonymous said...

Turnpike are FAR more deserving of such coverage, please don't tease

Cam said...

hey, if turnpike played more often i'd write about them more often!

to be honest, the only reason i wrote about the rat acad here is because i wanted to talk about do the robot and their album, and i couldn't see a way of doing so without also mentioning tRA. i agree that they've had a disproportionate of coverage here lately.

that said, i don't apologise for liking them. i think they're a great band.

Anonymous said...

This article ended with the promise of an entry by the weekend covering bands not covered before here, who and where Iiiiiimust knowwwwwww