The Rational Academy: Swans
Someone Good

One wouldn't expect The Rational Academy to have a whole lot in common with The Ramones but the former's Swans is similar to the latter's self-titled debut in at least one regard: in 1976, The Ramones turned heads for stuffing fourteen songs into a half-hour running time; thirty-three years later, Swans goes it one better by packing ten into twenty. As it turns out, the release is the second in a “10 Songs in 20 Minutes” series that Australian imprint Someone Good inaugurated last year with Lullatone's The Bedtime Beat. The sophomore outing by the Australian quintet (Benjamin Thompson, Amelia Golding, Todd Dixon, Matt Deasy, and Matt Jonas) may not stick around for very long but nonetheless manages to squeeze a full album's worth of styles and melodies into its too-short running time. Working with the band as an arranger and producer, Lawrence English played a strong collaborative role in stripping the songs down and building them back up to their final form. What results is a diverse mix of vocal songs and instrumentals, most of them sonically rich and well-developed despite their brevity.

“Unsolved Mysteries” opens the “album” promisingly with a dream-pop swirl of breathy vocals and electric guitars, before “Teen Diethylamide 25” showcases the group's softer acoustic side. “Hammer” pouts with a jagged post-punk skronk that's not too far removed from The Jesus & Mary Chain, while “Satan” serves up a few minutes of indie-rock twang. On the instrumental front, “12 Feet in Cheltenham” presents a psychedelic guitar-fueled soundscape somewhat suggestive of No Pussyfooting, while “Oak Hill” and “Yoko I'm Only Dancing” are drone interludes that are fleeting in the extreme. Aside from the vocal-and-piano ballad “Summer Husbands,” one of the release's strongest moments occurs when “A New Berlin” quietly dazzles with an uncluttered folk treatment and a vocal delivery strongly reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens. Call it an album if you wish, or perhaps mini-album or EP if you prefer. Over more quickly than you'd like, Swans leaves you hungry for more of the band's inspired pop experiments.

September 2009