I'll be the first to admit, I'm pretty suspicious of bedroom technology. These days, if someone tells me that they recorded an album by themselves, I almost automatically steel myself for it to suck. I'm even more scared when it's someone I know.
A couple of months ago, my friend Rocky Brewer gave me Beautiful Thought, a double album he recorded with his sister, Jaime (whom, strangely, I have never met). They recorded it under the name Rara Avis, and disc one is all songs by Rocky and disc two is entirely Jaime. I was immediately impressed by the package: a lovely, professionally printed cardboard digipack lavishly illustrated by Rocky's significant other Kimball Davis with additional design by Nicholas Orr. This wasn't some bullshit demo burned onto a CD-R and tossed inside a plastic case, they were taking it all the way.
And looking at the liner notes, my assumption that this was a record put together using Garage Band on someone's iBook is also totally wrong. Beautiful Thought was cut in a professional studio, an almost dinosaur process that puts Rara Avis out of step with how things are done today. But then, as Rocky freely admits in there, too, this is an album that is almost intentionally out of step, drawing on their own passions and need for expression rather than chasing the trends. Much of the music was made after sifting through their father's record collection, anyway, and I can hear a lot of older influences in it.
Beautiful Thought reminds me a lot of softer pop bands from the '80s, one-hit wonders like When In Rome and Breathe. I don't intend that to be at all insulting, since, as anyone knows, I like my '80s music. There is something delicate, romantic, and yearning about the songs. I would also say they have an artistry that is a couple of steps above the radio-hungry production of those other bands, a kind of techno pop reminiscent of some of the songs OMD were doing just before they got big.
My favorite song of Rocky's is "Love in the City." It's built on a tiny piano riff that is so pretty in its simplicity, it immediately sets the tone of melancholy and romantic doubt. Rocky's voice makes me think in positive ways of Tim Chipping from Orlando. In fact, Rara Avis strikes me as a band that the die-hard little cult of Orlando fans would like a lot. The little-known mid-90s almost-rans had a similar spirit of misfit hope and likely looked to a lot of the same production touchstones as Rocky and Jaime.
There is no great shift between disc 1 and disc 2 outside of changing vocalists, though I would say I detect a less organic, more cold and mechanical sound to the backing instrumentation on Jaime's tracks. Since I am digging around my pop culture music bin, I'd say on songs like "Fade to Nothing," it's like Sarah from Dubstar and Client singing over remixes of old Strawberry Switchblade tracks. There is a lot of distance in the lyrics, too, of pushing bad things away, like on "Inside," but there is also an assertiveness on tracks like "Say Anything," which leads to the more forceful, trance-influenced "Roll it Back Now."
Any art is personal and releasing it to the public risks ridicule or indifference. Here you are, exposing yourself, and no one may ever care. I'd suggest it's even more of a risk when you do it all yourself, without the help or hindrance of a larger machine to push you toward a safe commercial choice or even to validate that it's any good. Rara Avis have put the work in, and Beautiful Thought is definitely good.
To check the band out for yourselves, visit their official site or their MySpace page.
Current Soundtrack: Beautiful Thought
Current Mood: thirsty
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All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich