Friday, August 12, 2011
Razika Release Program 91: An Early Track-By-Track Review From The US
What an enjoyable record! In terms of sheer listening pleasure, Program 91 from Razika is quite possibly one of the 2 or 3 best albums of 2011 already.
Okay, before I get into a track-by-track review, I want to make a few points.
It's worth noting that there's a difference between unpolished and amateurish. I say that because one of the charms of Razika's music is that it is unpolished, but not the work of amateurs. The tunes are catchy and spry, unfussy and uncluttered, but focused and mature.
And I'm sure that as soon as this album comes out in America, these 4 ladies are going to be quite popular among some indie rock circles here.
But, as someone who never really tolerated the sort of affected artlessness popular in the American indie scene -- that K Records kinda "let's play shitty on purpose"-mindset -- I really hope that people here appreciate Razika, that this album doesn't get relegated to the indie ghetto.
Quite simply: Program 91 is unpolished and fresh, full of buoyant pop tunes, sprightly playing, and melodic charm.
Like that first great album from Arctic Monkeys, as well as many C-86 singles, Program 91 may not have a big budget studio sheen, but the tunes are big ones, played with a great deal of enthusiasm and affection, and without that affectation I was talking about.
And, like with those Sheffield Monkeys, I imagine that Razika's style of ska-rock will somehow end up a style of its own soon. I envision copycats of this record in the very near future as it's just that good and infectious.
Okay, now for the tunes!
Speaking of youth!
Opening with a guitar line similar to Arctic Monkeys' "Riot Van", this cut springs forward and lead singer -- and primary songwriter -- Marie Amdam kicks things off. There's a pull-and-push on the rhythm with drummer Embla Karidotter Dahleng using a jazzy approach.
"Why Have We To Wait"
This cover of a song by The Pussycats, a Norwegian group from the 1960s, finds Razika sounding a tiny bit like The Primitives. An almost martial beat marches the cut along as Marie purrs the lyrics.
"Vondt I Hjertet"
How can something sung in Norwegian be so insanely catchy to a non-Norwegian listener like me? Just a masterpiece of pop, "Vondi I Hjertet" is like The Cardigans' "Rise and Shine" with a sorta Specials ska beat underneath.
In the perfect world, this would be a Top 10 hit on FM radio.
There's a hint of Aztec Camera -- "Lost Outside The Tunnel", maybe? -- on the non-ska bits of guitar work here and that tension between those ska beats and the sunnier, poppier parts is precisely why Razika are such an amazing band.
Those final Stereolab-like vocal bits are sublime!
"Taste My Dream"
Sung in English, this is a tiny bit like a less anarchic Slits song. Decidedly tuneful, the song also recalls those Arctic Monkeys again.
With a 1960s Shangri-Las-like production, this song starts slow and works up a full head of steam. With the echo-y production, the instruments are easier to appreciate as guitar, bass, and drums all get a chance to shine.
"Nytt Pa Nytt"
Heavily in debt to that first Specials album, this fast ska-rocker surges with a propulsive force. Marie may sing "Nothing ever happens", but with those guitars chopping around her, she couldn't be more wrong.
One of the highlights of Program 91.
"Eg Vetsje Riktig"
Another great song, and another song that is insanely catchy even in Norwegian.
The ska formula is tweaked with a vaguely Bernard Sumner-sounding use of guitar here.
"Walk In The Park"
False start and all, "Walk In The Park" is a revelation!
Equal parts Mary Hopkin and Cardigans, this song is both breathtakingly beautiful and quite simple.
I stressed that point about being unpolished because of this song. There are no fancy flourishes of production here, but the guitar lines, background vocals, and melody combine to produce a few minutes of joy and heartbreak. Somehow sad and still hopeful, Marie sings the lyrics "We could walk in the park..." during the long coda as a harp comes in to carry the song to its conclusion.
On paper, these are all simple elements but the track is affecting and touching in a way that the rest of the album isn't.
Sounding a lot like Clare Grogan and Altered Images -- especially "Pinky Blue" or "See Those Eyes" -- this cut soars and refines that ska-pop formula into something sleek and modern.
"Hvem Skal Tro Pa Deg Na"
Another skanking beat, and one of the peppier tracks on the album. This cut most likely sounds even better live.
There's a touch of The Tom Tom Club here as well.
That Slits vibe is back on this album closer. With double-time vocals and drums, the gals rock along like the Arctic Monkeys on "Still Take You Home".
In their own way, Razika have produced a masterpiece with their debut album.
No Radiohead-esque blips-and-bleeps meant to signify modern ennui, no NPR-friendly mellow alt-rock moments, Program 91 is fun in a way that indie rock rarely is anymore.
And there's no shame in fun, is there?
It's a very rare skill to be able to conjure up music that is fun without being entirely frivolous, to make pop that is catchy and insistent without relying on million dollar producers and studio effects.
Razika have not disappointed this listener.
Remember how it felt to hear "Happy Birthday" by Altered Images for the first time back in the 1980s? Remember a time when something as good as "Our Lips Are Sealed" by The Go-Go's came on the radio?
Those moments and feelings are all here again with this record.
An equal to The Cardigans' Life, Program 91 is essential listening for any fan of female-fronted pop acts.
In terms of listenability, this is a 10-out-of-10. I can hardly wait to hear what Razika do next.
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