Rat Columns have deceived me.
The first two tracks on Candle Power are perfect. Wistful, pretty songs about love, with drums soft on the background like I like ’em and an equally soft organ guiding me through the instrumental parts. ‘She Loves the Rain’ is especially lovely, from the Christmas bells of the intro all the way to the track’s title. “She loves the rain / and the stars and the night / sky”, and I can imagine myself staring at the sky with her, or listening to the rain tick on the roof like Christmas bells. Pure bliss.
And then, the mood changes.
Like sunny weather turning into an overcast day. She loves the rain, but it’s still a surprise. (Forgive me for the weather metaphor; they’re always trite, but this one checks out). Like getting to know a person’s inner layers, which can be so different from the outer shell. ‘Deceived’ is not the right word, as there are no bad intentions at play. It’s just, I wasn’t expecting this.
‘Blinded by the Shadow’ is dark-alley music, with plonky bass and repetitive lyrics. The friendly organ has been replaced by a suspenseful violin that’s saying “Hurry up!”. But once we have hurried up, reached the end of that alley, the next track ‘Time’s No Vessel’, is altogether different – again. Languid beach music, backing vocals incluis, a tad boring perhaps. Rat Columns carry on, changing tack every three minutes or so. My other two favourites are the instrumental ‘Candle Power II’, which is the kind of late-night quasi-dance track that you would get if you slowed down LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ and that could easily be mistaken for a Heroes B-side outtake, and ‘Northern Soul’, the track that comes closest to the melodic opening duo, though this one’s still a lot darker and under the skin. You really wouldn’t guess this is a studio album, and not some weird-ass compilation CD found in the corner of a drawer.
Faced with such diversity, disparatiy, discohesion, I am tempted to find some unity here, to track down the missing links. There are some of course. David West is one, present on all but one track as a constant factor. His voice is always to the front of the mix, so he has to make no effort to be heard. This creates a certain calmth, a paradoxical openness. On the other hand, it adds to the feeling of displacement: what is this same man doing here, in this entirely different song? The other constants of Candle Power are more abstract: the consistency in the songwriting, always well-crafted, and always a clever melody here or there. But is that enough for identity?
In the end, I am unsure whether it’s a good idea to tape the pieces together at all. Perhaps Rat Columns is better with all the puzzle pieces (coming from different puzzles!) scattered accross the floor: a blue sky here, rain from a window over there, the dark bricks of a dark alley elsewhere. Better that, than botching them together, ripping of the connecting extremities in the process of making it fit. Candle Power is a patchwork not yet sewn together, a mosaic that doesn’t quite fit. And I’m still not clear whether it’s best enjoyed by taking a step back and surveying the whole, or by diving in and listening to it piece by piece.
-- Caspar Jacobs, April 1, 2017