Review Summary: feeling yourself disintegrate
I first heard of Strange Ranger about six days ago and got to listening to Remembering the Rockets
a day after that. I already want to (and as some long-suffering users will tell you, am willing to) defend their silly, frivolous idiosyncrasies against all that crushing doubt and criticism that nostalgia-heavy acts must face. Yeah, there's plenty to critique here, you can nitpick and break this album down to nothing - but guys, turn those higher brains off a second and wail 'FIOOONA, COME ON OVER' to a song titled "Leona" with me. You won't regret it, promise.
Okay, so we're at the second song and it blatantly sounds like "Friday, I'm In Love" and "Here Comes Your Man" mashed up in a blender and strained out through some dream pop guitars. It's also a SOTY contender. The upswing of the melody on "we're still friends, early in the morniiiing
" and the mangled guitar part right after could perfectly recreate the album cover in your head even if you'd never seen it. "Sunday"'s resigned conclusion - "I'm all alone in the world"
- after the recounting of small moments shared with a partner, washing dishes and quoting movies in the dark, is gutwrenching. Also, around my fourth or fifth listen of this album, it hit me that the first line on this song is "I'll apologise to Hugh / anytime you want me to" rather than the more emotional but far less entertaining "to you", which is utterly fantastic.
Isaac Eiger's vocals are floaty and strained, but they're perfect for the 'half-remembered thought in heat-haze' vibe the music evokes – think The Soft Bulletin
-era Wayne Coyne fused with Pinback's Rob Crow. The shimmering guitar is Beach House and My Bloody Valentine, but some Built to Spill creeps in for the more aggressive moments. The drums are certainly some drums. You see where I'm going with this: there's a clear aesthetic touchstone for pretty much everything this album does. If you're the kind of person easily frustrated by such influence-heavy music you'll be turned away, but I admire the consistency of songcraft needed to hold together an album pulling from so many places. The through-and-through Beach House worship of "Message to You" superbly gives way to album highlight, the spiralling, Smashing Pumpkins-quoting "Nothing Else to Think About". "Pete's Hill" is basically a song from Blue Screen Life
in 2019, but its quiet tension is a marvel coming down from the extremely-Modest Mouse "Ranch Style Home". The overwrought pronunciation on "Living Free" is surely a nod to inventor of music himself Jeff Mangum, whilst "Beneath the Lights" boasts inspired use of autotune calling to mind Kanye's "Runaway" more than any indie rock – and so on and so on. From the jump it's clear Remembering the Rockets
wants to breathe life to daydreams and childhood reminisces; why not sing revival to the music of your young days while it's at it？
It might actually be the interludes where Strange Ranger come closest to materialising their lofty list of influences (which, as of a recent interview, included Yves Tumor, Red House Painters, and Souls of Mischief's "93 'Til Infinity"). Best is the jaw-dropping instrumental "'02", which twists a guitar tone dipped in liquid silver around hazed-out reverb, it's like a waterfall drifting through outer space. "rockets" and "athens, ga" are both audio landmarks which likely delineate times and places for the band, little in-jokes that the listener is just on the outside of, scanning the audio for the way in. All you'll find is whispers, snippets of a conversation on "athens, ga" and what sounds like a poem drowned out in the static of "rockets". The album title is perfect in this way: it asks us to remember something we weren't present for, either a plea for understanding from an absent friend or a half-laughed joke at our expense.
Whichever it is, the walls come down on the final track. "Cold Hands Warm Heart" strips the layers of guitar, nostalgic reminiscence and dreamy atmospherics away to leave Eiger just singing, vulnerable and centre stage. "I said I'm scared of everything, I'd be angrier without you"
. His lyrics alone are simplistic, sometimes silly, but Eiger's quavery voice can quaver with the rest of them (Wayne Coyne and Jason Lytle have entered the chat
) and the quiet devastation of this song is a system shock, a cold awakening after the album's warm and pleasant dream. It's things like this, and the frenetic wailing at the end of "Beneath the Lights", and that hint of melancholy creeping in on "Sunday" which make Remembering the Rockets
more than an album-of-the-month flavour – make it something worth remembering.