Rattle – Rattle (Upset the Rhythm)

– this review was also published here at Collapse Board – 

There’s the old saying that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’, i.e. pointless. But as Robert Christgau rightly retorts: “One of the many foolish things about the fools who compare writing about music to dancing about architecture is that dancing usually is about architecture. When bodies move in relation to a designed space, be it stage or ballroom or living room or gymnasium or agora or Congo Square, they comment on that space whether they mean to or not”.

Why is this relevant? – and don’t worry, this won’t be boring, there will be a good old Pitchfork rant soon! Because although dancing usually is about architecture, music surely isn’t. For one, music moves in relation to time rather than space, its building blocks being the beat, measure and the sequence of a melody. Except for Rattle. Rattle, with their double set of drums and sparse vocals, sound like architecture. They are a kind of London brutalism with more open space, or perhaps the sort of structure Howard Roark from The Fountainhead has in mind. Certainly as ruthlessly uncompromising. And I’m not the only one who hears this. The ever perceptive Lee Adcock over at Collapse Board thinks of Lego blocks when listening to Rattle: “The two women of Rattle seem to regard their rhythms like pieces from a K’Nex kit; snap one here, another there, now break this off, and now wa-la, they’ve turned a house into a hovercraft.”

Indeed Rattle sounds like the act of building, constructing – and at the same time deconstructing as well, as all these songs are spacious and empty, like the blueprint of a pop song. They take away the guitar and replace it with the snare drum, the bass with the bass drum, the piano with the cymbals, thus giving every component of their drum kits the same importance that the conventional instruments of a band usually have. It’s minimalism in the most literal sense; that there is rarely anything superfluous present. As such, it is daring in its honesty. Take ‘True Picture’, with its gentle ‘tu-da tu tu-da tu-da’, as if this is remotely catchy (it isn’t, and yet it almost is). Where do they get the courage from to pretend? Or, of course, ‘Stringer Bell’, the nervous single they describe as their ‘cocktail song’. To reimagine The Great Gatsby with this as its soundtrack requires an unequalled sense of freedom.

So now onto Pitchfork’s review of Rattle, which gets a 5.0. The album that is; the review itself would get a far lower grade for how they don’t understand any of the above. They too start by noticing the freedom Rattle take, but somehow end up concluding they’re not radical enough to revive drumming records. Of course, it is true that the drum solo is the lamest thing in rock music since Ringo Starr, but Rattle simply isn’t about that kind of male bravado (perhaps even the whole idea of a ‘solo’ is part of rock’s masculinity). If that‘s what P4K is talking about when they say that Rattle “doesn’t really offer any threat to the status quo”…

The band is accused of neither being violent nor possessing some ‘transcendent quality’ – and sure, Rattle isn’t a loud record, but the way it unsettles you, requires attention, grooves and shocks, that’s undeniably violent. Architecture is always oppresive, always reveals power structures. Pitchfork regrets that ‘Starting’, on which the words “It’s starting” are ominously repeated, never actually gets off the ground. Which is a bit like those people on TripAdvisor commenting on the Acropolis: “I thought it’d be bigger”. As if some post-rocky climax-for-effect could be more threatening than not knowing whether the anonymous ‘it’ that is lurking behind the corner on the stairway, the ghost between the notes, has already started or is still waiting for an opportune moment to attack. Horror Soundtrack 101: it might be the bang that makes you jump, but the preceding quiet is what gives you nightmares.

Rattle is not the stuff of nightmares though. It is, in its own radical, twisted way, a gentle, inventive and, dare I say it, catchy record, at least in the sense that it makes me tap my foot. And the one thing I haven’t mentioned yet (but that Lee definitely expressed in her K’Nex analogy) is the infinite pleasure Rattle radiate, infinite in the same way there are infinitely many ways of building a Lego castle. If anything, this album isn’t ‘radical’ or ‘deconstructive’ or ‘minimalist’ (though it is all that too). It is a game: building and playing with pieces, a Boom here, a Click there, a Rattle elsewhere, and out of those pieces, creating something new. While most bands only give us the final product, Rattle show us the process, the creation, the enjoyment.

-- Caspar Jacobs, August 21, 2016