I’m incredibly excited about this. In case you were unable to tell by the audible squeal I exuded upon learning about the release of Fifteen Quiet Years, I wasn’t expecting much from the Rodan camp in the future, near or far, or in fact ever again. That squeal comes pretty closely on the heels of my review of Rodan’s self-released cassette demo, Aviary, which I tackled last year with enthusiasm. I found Aviary in the recent past, and it was the first “new” material I’d heard from them since Rusty, their seminal 1994 album, which I had gotten in 1996 or 1997. (Not counting, of course, a couple live bootlegs – good ones, soundboard quality – from which a couple tunes are appended here as bonus tracks.)
So here we go, a new release of Rodan material, hopefully wrapping up the band’s legacy with a tidy bow. It’s a vault-clearing enterprise of sorts, a way to let fans hear what Rodan was working on prior to their too-quick dissolution – which, although sad, gave us fantastic music from offshoots June of 44, The Shipping News, Rachel’s, Retsin, and Tara Jane O’Neill’s solos ventures, among others. (I guess Rodan was a “supergroup in hindsight.”) The material has been culled from out-of-print 7-inches and compilation tracks, and the set includes a fantastic Peel Session from 1994. And as an added treat, the band members themselves hand-picked their favorite live moments as bonus tracks. I’m almost positive I just squealed again after writing all this, but you can’t prove it.
For those of you just joining us after reading through my Aviary review (that’s where you were, right?), I want to back up and recognize Rodan for their contributions to modern music. This is a band that only released one proper album, and yet I’m fawning over them like some tween over Bieber, or Lorraine Baines over her future son Marty. (If you don’t get that last reference, you should a) be ashamed of yourself and b) be pretty confused.) Let’s say this: if Slint and Tortoise are widely regarded as defining and implementing the post rock style, then Rodan and Fugazi have to be the torchbearers for post punk. Although, of course, Fugazi has several albums and a widely known reputation – Rodan’s a bit of a different beast. But the musical ground they covered over such a small release space produced an astonishingly varied yield, a breadth of material unmatched in its density and inventiveness. I don’t know about you, but I pretty much compare any band calling itself “post punk” to Rodan. To me, they are the pinnacle of the genre.
What does that mean? There’s an energy to Rodan that just isn’t easily matched, and pairing that with the forward-thinking songwriting chops and freakishly inventive interplay creates a recipe for repeat listens that do not fail to surprise upon each successive spin. Take the first half of Rusty as evidence for Rodan’s versatility, and thus essentiality: it begins with six minutes of the chiming, beautiful, guitar-only “Bible Silver Corner,” a quiet passage of post rock–meets-ambient, and a false sense of security. (On Aviary, “Bible Silver Corner” closes the album – I think its impact is lost as a result.) Then comes “Shiner,” three minutes of explosive and propulsive shout-along hardcore-via–Squirrel Bait, a blast of pure energy that, combined with “Bible Silver Corner,” is as effective and surprising an introduction as you’ll get from any band, ever. Then, the MO is totally condensed into “The Everyday World of Bodies,” twelve minutes of shifting signatures and dynamics that should be at least twenty-four minutes long. Maybe an hour. I could listen to it for a while, let’s just put it that way.
Rodan was a beacon among their peers, and their abrupt end, while proving fruitful, was just that. And maybe we didn’t need the band to continue as it had been constructed – they avoided the whole burnout after five or so albums thing, and the members wrote new chapters in the canon of independent music, experimental or otherwise. But as the title Fifteen Quiet Years suggests (and I think I’ve got the significance of the math right – 1994 [the year Rusty was released] + 15 years = 2009, the year Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller remastered these tracks with Bob Weston in Chicago), it’s been a while, and maybe we didn’t know we needed it, but we needed new Rodan music.
Jason Noble, who went on to form Rachel’s after Rodan, and later formed The Shipping News with his old bandmate Jeff Mueller, sadly passed away in August of 2012 after a three-year battle with cancer. So maybe this record acts as a release, or a cleansing of sorts, or an endpoint marking his life and his work. It is a fitting tribute, if it is such a thing, to revisit the exemplary work that this man contributed to, and to have it so lovingly curated and preserved. Fifteen Quiet Years marks the remembrance of Rodan as a band of friends, a group of people who have touched countless other lives with their art. It is sad that we’re reminded of Noble’s passing with the release of Fifteen Quiet Years, that his death is an inextricable part of Rodan’s legacy. But as it’s often said, the point is to celebrate life, isn’t it? There is no better way to do that here than to spruce up the back catalog and remind everybody that they’ve been wandering in the wilderness for far too long. It’s time for Rodan to shake us up again.
OK, all that’s a bit heavy-handed, sure, but the circumstances dictate a little bit of (milk and?) melancholy (see what I did there?), and then we can dig in to the record. I’m finding it a little bit odd as I’m writing this that a band with one album consisting of six songs can dig up a whole nine songs of unreleased material and call it a treasure trove. (This obviously doesn’t count the live tracks.) But that’s what it is. Who’s got the How the Winter Was Passed 7-inch anymore? How about the Inclined Plane four-way split 7-inch? (This also features Tsunami, Unrest, and Superchunk, and only 4,000 of them were pressed in 1993 … why don’t I have that?) Does Matador keep the Half-Cocked soundtrack in print? It’s amazing how difficult it is to track some of this stuff down. That is why this set is worth your time – it will save you hours of searching and probably lots of money for rare copies of this stuff.
Fifteen Quiet Years is structured like an album too, the songs not necessarily sequenced with the tracks that they’d originally appeared with. Instrumental “Darjeeling,” from Inclined Plane, leads off, a quick, punky number in the vein of Cap’n Jazz without the vocals, but it’s followed by “Milk and Melancholy,” removed from its How the Winter Was Passed B-side “Exoskeleton” by four songs. This is a useful tactic, giving the impression that the curation of this release was carefully considered, not just cobbled together. What it brings to light is how amazing it was that Rodan wasn’t slowing down before they broke up, and also that their Rusty castoffs were just as important as what ended up on that album. The songs also hint at the members’ future directions, most obviously the June of 44 rhythmic touches and vocal tics of “Big Things, Small Things,” as well as the sustained post rock builds of “Exoskeleton.” But the greatest moments – the blistering and forceful rendition of “Shiner 92,” “Big Things, Small Things” and “Before the Train” from the 1994 Peel Session,” and the gritty punk of “Darjeeling” and “Tron,” – showcase a band peaking, exploding outward in 360 degrees of flaring magnesium barely disguised as punk fury, and quickly searing a mark upon the independent music landscape before calling it a day. Better to burn out than fade, etc. etc. But Fifteen Quiet Years suggests the potential for more.
And yes, this is all proven by the band’s offshoots, that’s OK. We’ve been graced by not just one band, but, like, six. Or something. And they’ve all been represented most excellently by their recorded output. (It’s not a secret that I’m a June of 44 and The Shipping News sucker, is it?) But to be reminded, almost twenty years after the band’s lone album hit the shelves that somehow we all missed Rodan in some way, that we all overlooked them because of their short time with us, is almost too much to bear. They should be one of the first names on our lips in any conversation about any number of genres, and we are hereby served a reminder. But we are not scolded – we should take joy in reminiscing about the energy and life we felt, and still feel, while listening to Rodan. Fifteen Quiet Years is the perfect ending of the saga, the best way to close the final chapter.
Here’s a list of where these tunes came from, by release, although some appeared in multiple formats*:
- “Darjeeling” – Inclined Plane split 7-inch, Simple Machines, 1993
- “Milk and Melancholy” and “Exoskeleton” – How the Winter Was Passed 7-inch, Three Little Girls, 1993
- “Tron” – Half-Cocked soundtrack, Matador, 1995
- “Shiner 92” – Compulsiv for Two split 7-inch, Compulsiv, 1995
- “Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto 92” – Merry Christmas Is for Rockers cassette (among other things), Slandek, 1992
- “Sangre,” “Big Things, Small Things,” and “Before the Train” – Peel Session, July 23, 1994
- The live bonus tracks are hand-picked by the band, and with the exception of the unrecorded “Wurl” (which appears twice) and “Martin” (the second half of “Big Things, Small Things/Martin”), all songs are from this release. “Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto” appears in recorded form on Rusty.
*Thanks to fan site http://www.bluescreenlife.com/rodan for the discography info.
RIYL: Drive Like Jehu, June of 44, Bastro, Bitch Magnet, Squirrel Bait, Slint