Thing of the Day
The Rock Of Travolta return with a new album...
March 3rd 2011
THE ROCK OF TRAVOLTA – Fine Lines (Big Red Sky)
The Rock Of Travolta used to be a pleasant, pocket-sized Godspeed You! Black Emperor - an instrumental rock band when such things were rarer, sporting classical strings amongst a variety of added non-rock instrumentation and an easy-on-the-ear sound. They had atmosphere, a light moodyness, occasional sparks of greatness - and yes, they were kind of simple and repetitive underneath, which kind of held them back and made listening to them just a bit frustrating. When they went away, quietly falling off the radar the way bands so often do, they were missed, just a little.
Meanwhile, a hundred and one instrumental Post Rock bands popped up... some very good, some very... well, um... similar. And meanwhile, The Rock Of Travolta - experienced, ahead of the game, you might say, went away and developed into the band they always should have been. There was a major line-up change, two founder members lost. The good news: great replacements with equal multi-intrumental talent, including a cello player with attitude. The evidence: this new album, Fine
The opening seconds of the first track, Rock By Numbers, stimulates a strange but perfectly reasonable couple of references: a riff from something on Selling England By The Pound, the perfectly balanced contemporary Krautrock sonics of Quack Quack,
the John Carpenter synthiness of Zombi. (FYI: Quack Quack being a strange,lovely band from Leeds, and Selling England By The Pound being an album by strange, lovely band called Earlygenesis). Straight in there with a meaty synth riff and crisp, tough, rocking-out, The Rock of Travolta are well and truly BACK.
opening track is some kind of futurist all seeing eye of a rock beast,
it gives way to expansive passages of prog, medieval folk-flavoured
restraint, bits of that sound like soundtracks to children’s television
shows, and most, most important
of all, they have excellent tunes. What was I saying about their
simplicity holding them back? They've made it an asset now.
Something has been tweaked in the writing - the repetition isn't so
obvious, the sounds are richer, the energy builds and flows with
purpose, with elegant style, rocking out with a deft touch, pieces peppered with keyboard and guitar
detail without drowning in overkill. They have, in about half a dozen ways, hit the sweet spot.
And so it goes on throughout the album. Last March Of The Acolytes has those nods to GSYBE, but condensed into a near-pop five minutes, complete with natural, unforced, just right quiet and loud, moving from restrained strings to subliminal atmospheric mellodic heavy metal riffage. The extremely likable The Goddamn Remote had one person here convinced that it was absolutely HAD to be Quack Quack - squishy synths, charming, very proggy tunes... then the full-on Mellotronic middle then had me wondering if the Truckers Of Husk had come out of hiding, before being told that it was indeed the return of those Oxford pioneers. OK, that's two slightly obscure UK bands there, (let's throw in mathrockers You Slut! and make it three) and that's because for all the prog and post-rock references there's definitely a sound evolving out there that belongs in the here and now. It's a subtle, refreshing thing, a blend of lifetimes of listening that's hard to pin down... an evolution still going on.
The Rock Of Travolta were doing their thing well before the playground filled up with millions of identical post-rock-by-numbers beard-growing bands all sharing the same chords, indeed to even tar The Rock Of Travolta with that post rock brush here in 2011 is to pull them down when in actual fact they’re fiercely soaring in a more inventive way than ever. Yes, Oxford’s Rock of Travolta are back, after a “self-imposed exile”, Who knows where they’re been, what they've been up to doesn’t really matter, they’re here now and they have a new album and to put it bluntly, its as positively prog as f**k!
See, the question has to be, why do all those instrumental post rock bands all noodle around sharing the same one tune between them? The same quiet build it up to a crescendo formula, the same polite moves? There are other ways of doing it, of challenging yourselves. Rock Of Travolta know this, they’re flying all over the place, proper prog adventure. The album is alive with bits of reference points, nothing too obvious: bits of Genesis, bits of King Crimson, Yes, Can, touches of classic IQ -
their rocking bite, their dirty edges, lot of old references but this is very much a thing of now. Nothing retro or re-hashed here, just healthy flavours, positive ingredients to throw into their rather different prog cake. The Rock of Travolta are sounding even leaner and fresher then they ever have, this is a sound and style that’s direct and to the point in a very expansive dynamic scenic way. The Rock Of Travolta's new album is a triumph.
Fine Lines is released on March 14th 2011
A free download of Last March of the Acolytes is available from: www.therockoftravolta.com/