Friday, February 16th, 2007
For all the hype about this album, the video contest, the chicken outfit, the buyers guide over at Asthmatic Kitty, I expected to be hearing more from the press upon the release of this fine album. Maybe it’s a symptom of the indie media’s cynicism, maybe the content isn’t cool enough — it’s been overlooked.
I was mostly intrigued by what seemed intense production techniques — the scattered drum fills and chirps and growls of ‘Encouragement’ — Rafter lulls over the ramparts, a calm voice over a comically stormy sea of scraggles and squawks. It’s music that kicks and soothes — it’s all hard edges, and those made cavernous by strings and choir. The production is awkward and manic. It’s over-the-top and bawdy! And every song suffers the sting of Rafter’s eccentricity.
But then every song untwists itself in the most beautiful ways.
Take for example ‘Tragedy’ — begins with an off-rhythm high hat and guitar squawk with beach boy ooo’s flying by the tent poles: after the first minute it sounds like Rafter will launch into garage band senseless passion — the drums cut out, a guitar rears up on hind legs: you can imagine Rafter’s red head bracing to bang. And then the most wonderful thing: a guitar flum-flums, a melody bubbles up and a song is formed with the most wonderful lyrics: "It’s natural to get destroyed," and you’ve forgotten that you almost skipped to the next track.
Another example: on ‘Unassailable’ — Rafter turns some machine all the way to eleven, some speakers blow, some paint is peeled and all through the first minute-fourty you’re wondering what could be made from this mess. And then a trumpet comes in — the scale is made perfect, the mess has context. This track never totally lands: it’s always a little too shiny in an over-bright sky, but if you squint just right, you can see the figure of our hero crafting something fine. Something careful.
There’s evidence that this has been heavily crafted as an album rather than a collection of songs — Rafter has a great sense of scale and audience. We’re encouraged into patience with the respite of ‘interlude’ and ‘Boy’ which tumbles and trips into a mantic coda of strings and Liz Janes speaking low — these are the landscapes and blue skies we’ve been waiting for! Now if Rafter pulled this trick on every track, or even a few of them, we’d wink and walk away. But, as I said before, he’s careful. He knows his audience.
On the second listen the anticipation is almost unbearable — and this is the life of ‘Chickens’ — these are songs beautifully crafted, glazed, polished, smashed to the concrete and rebuilt — the destruction is the process; the cracks are in the story. This is an album whose scale is persistently renewed: we grow to expect clamor and crash to bloom and slow into something wonderful. This is an album about giving the seemingly haphazard a chance to explain itself. And this album is rewarding in ways I didn’t expect.
What I want to know is Why this album was made — I don’t imagine I’ll be writing an album of inspirational songs any time soon. It seems beside the point. If good work is to be about process, it seems that songs written to give a push to the stalled ought to show more pushing: more unstalledness. What we get is an album which beautifies and validates the words used by folks attempting to avoid and disuade process. And yet there’s evidence throughout the album that Rafter understands this: and is playing with process as much as anyone.
So why the strange disconnect? Is it possible that a man in a chicken suit is in love with the process, and so much so it need not be conjured in his art?
What I find appealing in Rafter is that he’s playing with grand posture in his outrageous skin — this is not a clown feigning sadness or joy. There’s something about Rafter that denies self-parody. He’s attempting to uncover something of the core of experience by examining the poles — to the North, the honest and human, the validation of experience and need. To the South, chickens and guitars wailing and all things flippant. But he seems to be caught up in something larger — the scale is the key. Rafter’s going to weave the two extremes together in an attempt to capture everything in between. There’s something beautiful about this method. Rafter is simultaneously the scheming villain defending the nebula of his ego and our hero caterwauling through the sky.
Filed under: music