World Racketeering Squad
I haven't done a CD review in a long time. Good thing I have a stack of them here to work on. I still need to spend some more time with the new Megafauna, which is too expansive to summarize quickly. I will say that they're one of the most original bands in Austin and the record (Larger Than Human) sounds great. I've enjoyed seeing them live and I have a new appreciation for how they are wiring some far-flung references into a highly creative sound, listening to them documented on disc so sharply. You should go see them Saturday at Hole in the Wall, with Transmography and the Hi-Tones among others. Three bucks, free before nine. Will get an in-depth review up soon.
The World Racketeering Squad are a band about whom I wrote one of my very first local reviews a year or so ago. It's amazing how much they have grown since then, but a good attitude and excess brainpower will do that for a band. Their debut full-length What Is Nerdwave? comes out officially a month from today. WRS are good role models for local bands. They're sharp dudes and they put a lot of thought into all the aspects of being a band. Check out this blog written by guitarist Isaac Priestley about the importance of command structure in the rock group. It's thoughtful stuff.
What Is Nerdwave? gives me a good chance to respond in a positive way to some criticism of my own work, which is that I only give good reviews to people who are exceptional or at least pro-level at their instruments. There's a difference, I argue, between playing the guitar well and writing good songs on the guitar. I don't mean to imply that the World Racketeering Squad are bad musicians. Isaac is in fact a very good guitar player, drummer Bruce Chandler keeps the beat steady and harmonizes strikingly well, and bassist Reed Oliver is expressive and ingratiating as principal lead singer. They're not pretty, trendy, or polished enough to ever be world-famous. But as far as meeting their goals of writing songs they can be proud of and putting on entertaining rock shows for their growing ranks of fans, they're getting it done. So can you.
The tunes on What Is Nerdwave? tell stories. The band uses its knack for good, sticky chorus hooks and supports it by writing lyrics that increase the expectation and hence the payoffs for the choruses. They also make their 80's-rock inspirations their own by injecting the Racketeers' personal obsessions and quirks, from the technosexual weirdness of "Electromagnetic Pulse" to the fanfic romance "Summer" (as in Summer Glau). The smart construction of the songwriting enhances the modest pleasures of their playing. A few songs really pop out: "I'm Not Dead" is fast, goofy fun and "Looking for Lorelai" is expertly conceived power pop.
World Racketeering Squad fall victim at times to the same mistakes as most young bands. Over-repetition is their biggest weakness. "Needful Things" has a silly recorder lick that works perfectly, but gets played four or more times in a row at three separate places in the song. Not necessary. "Summer" has a shift from bossa nova to guitar-slinger slow ride that would hammer harder if both sections were half as long. The hook for "Awesome" gets dragged out so many times it soon becomes anything but. And "You Are the Dream" tries to close Nerdwave off in stadium-rock glory but needs a more subtle approach than just one overtaxed flanger.
If you enjoy 80's pop, science fiction, and computer programmers who rock, this is something you should look into. The band's enterprising spirit shows through in the variety of release options for the CD. You can get just the disc, various expanded versions with cool extras, or the "Absolute Ultimate Racketeer Glory Edition." If you spring for this most exclusive package the band will write a custom song on a topic of your choosing. This is a great idea (not wholly original, but no matter) and I much prefer the idea of giving fans lots of choices to asking for a handout on Kickstarter.