It’s not like I’ve spent a vast chunk of my life thinking about Brooklyn deep-psych sister-act Prince Rama, but when I have thought of them, I haven’t always thought the nicest of things. At their inception, the Larson sisters always struck me as collegiate art-stoners who wore their Floridian Krishna-commune upbringings like cooler-than-you badges. That’s not a particularly fair assessment, but it’s the sort of thing that we all end up doing when we’re sorting through the vast digital piles of unheard new music, trying to figure out which ascendant bands deserve our listening energies. And so Prince Rama, to me, were gimmicky Afghan-rug zone-out curios with a decent enough sound but no innate qualities that made them essential. And then they went and made an entire concept album in which they attempted to channel all the most popular songs on the radio during the apocalypse. And that’s certainly one way to get my attention.
The more I think about the general idea behind Top 10 Hits Of The End Of The World, the more I like it. For one thing, it’s a sharp way out of a songwriting black hole. By pretending to be 10 different fictional bands, they get to stop cranking out raga-churns and start investigating pop ideas, but doing it in an exploratory and unserious way. And by tying all those songs in with an explicitly apocalyptic theme, they’ve also freed themselves from the burden of writing straight-up pop music, instead indulging an end-times fervor that makes their music both more urgent and more diffuse. And the very basis of the album ties it in with the weird armageddon-zeitgeist happening in pop culture this minute — one that’s very much on my mind after I spent the past few weeks mowing through the two Justin Cronin Passage books. (Seriously, holy shit, read those things.)
Prince Rama have put in a ton of effort into the world-building that the album concept requires — posing for press shots as all the different bands, inventing backstories, stuff like that. And you don’t necessarily need to dig into all the particulars, though they’re there for you if you have the time. As the cover art implies, the apocalypse of the album seems like a distinctly mid-’80s Watchmen sort of thing. Prince Rama don’t try to invent their own versions of Taylor Swift or Big Sean or “Gangnam Style,” though god knows I’d be interested to hear those. Instead, the reality at work here is, as I hear it, an alternate 1985 where the Slits and Killing Joke and Berlin — especially Berlin — all happened to be the most important musical forces on the planet, and where the entire world spent its last couple of months breathing psychotropic pixie dust. This is still psychedelic music, and the whole thing plays out as a fairly cohesive whole, but there’s still more movement and variation than I’d ever expect to hear from a Prince Rama album.
To make this, Prince Rama haven’t exactly tried writing strictly-structural pop songs; it’s more that they’re playing with actual hooks, and with sounds that could conceivably have been considered pop music at some point. “Welcome To The Now Age” is conceptual robo-reggae, like the Art Of Noise producing for the Police. I hear traces of John Woo-soundtrack Canto-pop in “Radhamadhava,” though maybe I’m just wishfully projecting there. “So Destroyed” is catchy, zoned-out fuzz-rock with a rhythm section that actually moves; I’m thinking they spent some time studying the Incredible Bongo Band or Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican” to write that one. None of it quite holds together as straight-up pop music, but all of it feels energetic and inviting and alive, and that’s all you can really ask pop music to be. The whole album strikes me as the best thing Prince Rama have ever done by some measure, and if they can wring magic out of a writers’-workshop exercise like this, maybe more bands should try something just as out-there.
Top 10 Hits At The End Of The World is out today on Paw Tracks.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Immortal Bay Area rap legends Too Short and E-40’s twin collaborative albums History: Mob Music and History: Function Music, which might’ve combined to form Album Of The Week if I’d realized they were coming out before this morning.
• Lindstrøm’s grand return to space-disco Smalhans.
• Brian Eno’s ambient centerpiece LUX.
• Dirty Projectors’ outtakes EP About To Die.
• Emeralds’ wispy drone-out Just To Feel Anything.
• Teen Daze’s diffuse bliss-out The Inner Mansions.
• DaVinci’s plainspoken San Francisco rap memoir The MOEna Lisa.
• Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s debut major-label EP Power & Passion.
• The garage-centric tribute compilation The Velvet Underground & Nico by Castle Face and Friends.
• Kylie Minogue’s orchestral re-recordings collection The Abbey Road Sessions.
Not too many new albums out today. I guess something else is going on?