Rodan – ‘Rusty’: Round 28 – Rob’s choice

At our last meeting Tom, in a moment of brio, suggested the fanciful theme for the next meeting of ‘Albums that could be dogs names’. This was clearly ridiculous. I mean, the next meeting wasn’t even at his house so he had no right to be suggesting themes. If we’d received the complaint from Graham on the correct form, he would have been expelled.

The others, quite reasonably, forgot all about this, probably because it constituted such a flagrant abuse of the rules. I mean, seriously, he could have faced disciplinary action. Perhaps for that very reason, the idea stuck with me long enough for me to scan my vinyl for possible contenders. I came up with ‘Mr M’ by Lambchop, ‘Mush’ by Leatherface, the eponymous album by now forgotten outfit ‘That Dog’ and this, which shares a name with my Grandma’s old corgi cross. So I brought it along to sniff bottoms with Led Zep I, Keyboard Repair and Post. Only the latter was even slightly compatible, and even then the sniffing was one-way.

Rodan were from Louisville, Kentucky. This album, released in 1994, plus a subsequent 7″ single, comprises their entire discography. That’s 8 tracks in all. Nonetheless the two words that seem to crop up repeatedly when Rodan are written about nowadays are ‘seminal’ and ‘Slint’. ‘Rusty’, titled after the nickname of engineer Bob Weston – who later went on to be one third of Shellac, does share a methodology with Louisville predecessors Slint’s two records, but it’s not the direct descendent you might expect.

The weather fronts that seem to sweep this album bathe and batter the first two tracks, which are as opposed to each other as any opening duo I can think of. ‘Bible Silver Corner’ is spectral, delicate, beautiful, foreshadowing the work that some of its composers would go on to do as chamber rock outfit Rachel’s. ‘Shiner’ is a savage slasher, screaming and chopping away for two and a half minutes, which feels longer, in a good way.

The rest of the album walks the line of tension between these two extremes and in doing so conjures exquisitely twisted forms and breathes into them an energy that animates and lights them.

They get called ‘Math Rock’ too, and I think that’s unfair. For me Rodan were about freedom rather than rigid formalism. They represent a number of bands of the 90s who were able to fuse the exploratory lifeforce of jazz and, dare I whisper it, prog, with the stripped intensity of punk. At their best these bands stepped away from pretension and created liberating, exhilarating new noises. And Rodan were among the best.

Nick listened: By sheer coincidence I saw some music people talking in excited adjectives about Rusty by Rodin a few weeks ago on twitter, looked it up, and was intrigued enough to add it to my Amazon Wish List, which functions (as I’m sure it does for many people) as a repository of all those cultural artefacts that we have a passing interest in and, were a lottery win to materialise (tricky as I don’t play it), I’d casually and nonchalantly pick up, but which I doubt I’d be motivated enough to buy otherwise. “Stuff I’d like to know about”, we could call this category. I’d heard, very vaguely, of Rachel’s, but Rodin were previously unknown to me.

So I was pleased and intrigued to see Rob pull it out of his bag and enthuse about it too. As for what I thought of it… it was difficult to get a handle on it from one listen, and I suspect the twisting patterns and dynamics would reward repeat listens far more than initial exposure. It probably suffered a little in my mind by comparison to things which followed it but which I experienced first – the likes of Mogwai, Do Make Say Think, and various other all-too-linear, all-too-limited postrockers who don’t have the wit or vim to expand their sound palette or horizons beyond quiet-quiet-loud instrumental rock. I’m hoping there’s more to Rodin, and at some point, after a windfall, I’ll try and find out.

Rob replied: And maybe, after that windfall, and after those rewarding repeat listens, you’ll start spelling their name right.

Nick guttersniped: I was the only one of us who could spell Todd Rundgren.

Tom Listened: I owen Ruusty and hav dun 4 menny yeers, havin bort it (can’t think how to mispell ‘it’)…when it was released. I purchased it because Spiderland was my obsession, my favourite album at the time and it still resides somewhere towards the top of the tree as far as I am concerned. But I never really liked Rusty and I have never really worked out why.

Having listened to it again, I’m still a bit foxed but I can’t say much has altered. I guess I just find the tunes a little forced…and if I’m totally honest, tedious. And yet if you dissect the sound of the two records, Spiderland and Rusty are not very far removed at all. Both do the quiet/loud thing, the whispered vocals into ear piercing screaming. Both have six long songs that meander through their musical landscape a millions miles away from the usual verse/chorus/verse structure. But, for me, Spiderland does something that Rusty doesn’t…captivate. And therein lies the rub.

Graham Listened: I’m a simple soul and admit I couldn’t really latch on to this on first listen. But rather than something which I would choose to then ignore, this struck me a sound I would need to keep exploring. I’m not sure what ‘Math Rock’ might be, but the dynamics and tensions on this did not in anyway strike me as formulaic.

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