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A three-star review of Echoes in Rolling Stone was over-simplistic and wrong in many ways. First, it grouped the Rapture with the Liars and !!! as New York “art-damaged punk-disco bands,” failing to recognize the vast difference in the bands’ approaches, and that !!! are in fact from Sacramento. Then reviewer Rob Sheffield alluded to common comparisons between the recent dance-punk bands and late-80s British acid-house, and then declared that “the Happy Mondays sucked.” And then there was the four-star review of the new Strokes album, Room on Fire. Sorry RS, but it doesn’t take much to tell you—you’ve got it all wrong.
The Rapture are indeed from New York City, and certainly fit the punk-disco moniker, but the catchiness of the songs, the scope of emotions, and the depth and texture in their compositions place them firmly at the forefront of this so-called movement. The Rapture have not only the songwriting chops but also the skills and means to make good of them.
A vital part of those means is the album’s flawless production, courtesy of the DFA. Quite simply, the increasingly popular NYC duo give Echoes what Paul Oakenfold gave the Happy Mondays on Pills, Thrills, and Bellyaches and what the Dust Brothers gave the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique. The DFA’s production brings the Rapture’s early sound, evocative of Joy Division and the Cure, to its logical fulfillment—bridging the band’s penchant for the 80s with the means and trends of 21st century rock.
Electronic synths and dance beats pulsate in almost every crevice, but only where appropriate. Compare the stripped-down “Open Up Your Heart” with the subsequent “I Need Your Love”—both songs share Luke Jenner’s high-pitched croon and snarky saxophone bits from Gabriel Andruzzi, but pounding beats mark the transition from sweeping ballad to stomping Eurotrash. Rather than bombard us with too many of these numbers, the Rapture opt for variation, succeeding amazingly with both kinds of songs.
The Rapture contort dance beats to depict a variety of emotions, including the desperation of “Olio,” the paranoia of “Killing” and the intense exhilaration of lead single “House of Jealous Lovers.” The latter has received far too much attention for its adulation of the cowbell and nowhere near enough for the fun the band has counting to eight—to an extent which we haven’t seen since the Violent Femmes’ “Add it Up.”
Echoes is fun, and it’s smart fun that reveals new strands over time. It riles us to the point where we must dance, or at least nod our heads or beat on imaginary drums. Echoes is also reflective: on the previously mentioned “Open Up Your Heart” and the somber closer “Infatuation,” where kettle drums boom over an acoustic guitar and a shoegazing Jenner, the Rapture demonstrate that well-dressed New Yorkers have feelings too. The album sounds so confident and brash, so slick and assured, that it is impossible not to be convinced of this band’s significance.
But apparently Rolling Stone feels otherwise, and it’s for shame. The dance-punk movement is in full swing, proving that the kids not only can but also want to dance—and the teeming anticipation for full-lengths from !!! and Liars further demonstrates the excitement and buzz for the new school. But none of the bands in this coterie have the range and accessibility that the Rapture flaunt so brilliantly to the masses on Echoes. Other bands might crank out a more memorable anthem than “House of Jealous Lovers” (!!!’s “Me and Giuliani…” comes to mind), but none are likely to make an album as complete, as fresh, and as start-to-finish excellent as Echoes.
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