Extree, extree, read all about it! Post-everything mavens and unabashed Philip Pullman fans The Royal Arctic Institute self-release cassette debut The French Method! Edition of 100! Greatest music writer of all time cracks the case! Allied forces declare victory!
That’s right folks, wrap yourselves up good and warm before embarking on this expedition, because where we’re going, you’ll need to be totally prepared for the elements. Got your amber spyglass? Your subtle knife? Your thermos full of cocoa? These things are all important in some regard, trust me. And, ah, did I say “greatest music writer of all time” up there? I… uh… moving on.
But first, let me introduce you to your guides. Scene Vets™ John Leon, Gerard Smith, and Lyle Hysen form the core, the foundation, the backbone of The Royal Arctic Institute, and collectively they have – literally – over fifty years’ experience in The Game. The Game of music playing and touring and recording. Haven’t you heard? John’s been around: Roky Freaking Erickson’s band, among others. Gerard’s been around: Phantom Tollbooth – ever heard of that little enterprise? Lyle’s been around: Das Damen, anybody? (Also, he’s probably responsible in some way for all the music you like in all of your favorite shows and movies, but that’s a topic for another day.) I know the term “supergroup” gets thrown around a lot these days, but this isn’t your typical, erm, BNQT. No, no – these egos are checked right at the door, hung on the coat rack and forgotten for a few hours in favor of the sweet, sweet tunes.
And sweet they are. A self-described “post-everything” instrumental trio, The RAI comes bearing armfuls of inspirational touchpoints, but the concoctions whipped together from the various ingredients can easily be described in a single, complimentary word: cinematic. And no, not the “cinematic” of, say, randomly, The Golden Compass, all style and no substance, ham-fistedly crammed into a two-hour runtime with none of the nuance necessary to bring such a beloved tome to motion-picture life. Not that cinematic. I’m talking the type of “cinematic” often ascribed to wonderful acts like your Brokebacks or your Tortoises, the whole Thrill Jockey “post-rock/post-jazz” aesthetic where each second of recorded music is fully considered and labored over, even in the process of improvisation and songwriting.
Of course, The RAI contains only three members, so the band is forced to work within their constraints to pull off these sonic gymnastics. But they’re up to the task, fully realizing the road movie in their minds, where scenery zooms by through the window of an automobile speeding down a highway somewhere in America. Guitars and bass snake around each other, communicating their dreams of the landscape while the percussion grounds them like gravity to the destinations, the starting points, and the stops in between. A bit of Badalamenti worship creeps into the slower numbers, such as “Greeley’s Ghost,” and one can also draw comparisons to one of my favorite-est instru-road-trip records of recent memory, Frank Lenz’s Water Tiger. (Seriously, that’s a fun one.) But regardless of how prepared you are for leaving your home, whether you’re heading due north on a life-or-death expedition (keep your daemon close!) or just off on a jaunt to feel the wind in your hair as it blows through the open car window, you’re only as prepared as having or not having The French Method in your stereo makes you. If “having” is your situation, you’re fine. If you’ve answered “not having” – god, what’s wrong with you?
So this paper comes with a supplement, an addition praising the lovely aesthetic choices: photos by Phil Morrion (cover) and Susanne Sasic (interior), and the splendid design by former Critical Masses collaborator (and heckuva nice guy) John Newcomer. Bravo!