Rat Columns – Sceptre Hole (LP)

I didn’t know who U.S. based Rat Columns were before this album hit my inbox. A quick Google lead me to discover a series of links back to Australia: Perth expatriate David West leads the trio, it’s got the Mikey Young seal of mastering approval, they’re label mates with Boomgates, and one piece of the band is a touring member for Total Control. It takes a slight cue from that band’s early oeuvre, too. It doesn’t lean so much on sun-blotting synths as Total Control’s proto-punk Henge Beat did, but one need only look as far as the well-recorded scrappiness of ‘Death Is Leaving Me’ for some similarities to Total Control’s earliest 7”, albeit without the manic vocals.

Shedding the comparison, Rat Columns is West’s baby, a group constructed with his grey vocal style in mind. West’s singing is wilfully out-of-tune: maybe not out-of-tune per se, but always seemingly a tone under what a vocal coach would request. His flatness is wrought with heights and inflection, and partnered with the vocals being low in the mix this gives the songs a sombre trademark. Forecast: gloomy, with a slight chance of sun later in the day.

Sceptre Hole fills out its fifteen tracks with a number of instrumental movements. They emphasise the sunken atmosphere of the record and give the pop tracks room to breath. The one-two punch of ‘Ashes Of A Rose’ and ‘Opaque Eyes’ feel like a total rush after an extended mid-album ambiance. They’re catchy, forward-thinking guitar pop, and I don’t think there will ever come a time when those first few seconds of ‘Ashes Of A Rose’ don’t elicit a surge of excitement in me.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to liken the melodic fuzz of ‘Dying Day’ to pre-Loveless My Bloody Valentine, while ‘Nearsighted’ is held down by a strong post-punk bass line. The mood-change of ‘Summer Thighs’ does what it says on the label as a blissful, quasi lo-fi piece built around decorous strumming. You can almost see the vapour coming off the water. ‘This Night Mocks Lovers’ is a late entrant for album standout, reveling in looped percussion and rosy-eyed keyboard. As a greater part of some new-wave-revival or not, this is unexpected outlier masquerading as retrograde pop.

It’s unlikely Sceptre Hole will set the world on fire, but in the ever-expanding army of guitar bands seemingly orbiting the Mikey Young School Of Sound, Rat Columns have logged a record worthy of attention.

Label: Smart Guy
Release date: August 2012