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CD Feature/ The Rational Academy: "A Heart against your own"

img  Tobias
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There is a fundamental difference between the motivations of experimental artists and a pop band: While the former demand respect, the latter want to be loved. With the release of “A Heart against your own”, the Rational Academy might see both dreams fulfilled at the same time with their very first album.

At the heart of this double success lies an approach which integrates the world of sound art into a band context, adding a new and distinct emotional layer to a formation still consciously operating within the territory of verse and chorus: Stripped down to its bare skin, these are seven pure pop songs, occasionally with a folk flavour, then again speaking in the tongue of Independent Rock – and they neither need nor want to be over-analysed.

This is especially true on this occasion since playing with contemporary technology is no longer a gadget to these Brisbanians, but comes as naturally as plugging their instruments into an amplifier. Electronic elements are integrated and interwoven into these fragile, yet self-confident pieces so subtly that they in fact become one with the song’s structure as the album progresses. On “David” and “Airport Nation”, distant patterns and faint bubblings are merely a blissfull backdrop to close-miced vocals and a warm acoustic guitar, but “2004”, a sad hymn on how you can not turn back time, is already firmly propelled by a drum machine beat and ominously swelling basstones, with guitar strings humming softly and quietly, washed-over by waves of echo.

This janus-headed approach naturally leads to some abrupt transitions, most noticeably when the dark and pensive coda of “2004” ebbs away into the void, only to be counterpointed by the uplifting riffs of “Two Books”, on which front duo Benjamin Thompson and Meredith McHugh tease the ones they love: “You followed me home” – “I don’t think so.” “You borrowed two books” – “I gave them back.” And the euphoric introspection of opener “The Author” is immediately followed by “JoJo Planteen”, a melancholic trip down memory lane. Somehow, however, the band keeps everything together thanks to the underlying mood of sweet melancholia and through the brittle melodic arches raised by McHigh and Thompson.

And then, of course, there is “Squid & Wale”, a nearly twelve minute long epic, which, almost at the end of the album, single-handedly disrupts the concise structures of what came before, but also glues the disparate elements together again. Building from an extended guitardrone wash, the track opens like a romantic rock song, enters an emotionally charged minor key instrumental passage and a moment of ambient disentanglement, threatens to destroy itself in a frenzied holler, only to pick up the main motive again in a quiet epilogue.

In the backalleys of this completely organic and unpretentious piece of progressive rock, all wounds are healed and everything starts to make sense. The Rational Academy are singing songs about what surrounds them, but can not always be expressed with words or within the framework of a song. Where traditional structures fail and falter, sound and experiment come to the rescue. “A Heart against your own” is an album which contains everything needed to fall head over heels for it – yet its minutely worked-out details and sonic finesse turn it into a work demanding respect as well.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: The Rational Academy
Homepage: Someone Good Records

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