John Rigg (singer, instrumentalist and producer) and Edmond Bruneau (lyricist), are the core duo of a musical project situated at the heart of rock n’ roll. Rigg creates robot machines and is reputed to have the world’s largest museum dedicated to toy and replica robots located in Northeastern Washington. Bruneau is an ex advertising executive who writes jingles and books of poetry. Together they form Robot Raven. The pair have now released their fourth album, entitled “Set to Soar”. Although it is the overwhelming technical virtuosity of this group that I respond most favorably to; I have to admit that I really can’t nail it down to one single thing; my guess is that it is some combination of the haunting melodies; the baroque, prog-rock type arrangements; loads of meticulous guitar work; and the rocking nature of the music. In general, the complexity is there, yet it is stripped back to unfold the melody, harmony and rhythmical nuances of the music. The overall sound is very warm, and is well-suited to vinyl recordings, which is still my chosen form of listening pleasure.
Off of the starting block, this is a project of superb skills. There are some ripping solos on the electric guitar, and the vocal harmonies are also very sophisticated and should surely be seen as a hallmark of the Robot Raven sound. The twelve tunes on the album presents a nice mixture of proto-progressive, heartland and traditional rock, as well as smidges of the British Invasion, Glam-rock and Tex-mex. In general, the trademark Robot Raven complexity and versatility is powerfully present on this album. If you have never heard of the band, this may be your best introduction to them.
Music is riddled with tremendously talented artists that quietly pass under the radar of popular culture, outside of a small but devoted fan base. Robot Raven, like quite a few of their peers, find themselves crammed into this exclusive little niche. Their brand of art rock is a tough sell in the time of twerking and streetwise swagger. It’s also pretty tough to argue the uniqueness of Robot Raven without really experiencing it. But despite all of this, rock’s core goodness has never sounded so vital, vibrant and still ahead of the game as it does here.
“Set to Soar” presents a surprisingly affecting combination and yet another example of the way in which Rigg and Bruneau have enthusiastically embraced the creative aspects of a genre all but flagellated to its knees by the new wave of musical urchins and their ever encumbering play-by-numbers technology.
One click on the Surf rock and Tex-Mex crossover, “A Girl Like You”, will give you a quick-paced and diverse listen. Indeed, from here on out the band experiment and flirt with very different styles, but always in an accessible. Starting with the lusciously melodic and fully harmonized mid-tempo track, “Hold Me”.
Things get gritty and soulful on “The Little Things”, with its switching tempo and mood. This is a showcase for Rigg’s vocal prowess, as well as his guitar skills. The magic atmosphere, the distinctive, delightful and classic finger-snapping rock n’ roll groove, is here in all its glory on “Ready Now”.
The passionate vocals, the percussive instrumentation and tasty wah-wah guitar-work drive “Password” through its paces. Theatrical vocal drama, and the variation between beautiful, quiet, melodic parts and much louder, layered and energetic passages with some incredible dynamics are the focus of “Me2”.
This brings us to one of the albums standouts, “This Time Around”, with its acoustic driven foundation and series of melodic and harmonic builds which are nothing short of awe-inspiring. “Children Of The Universe” keeps the momentum going, before Robot Raven sidetrack into the layered vocal delights of “100 Mile Mormon”.
Sounding like a blend between Roy Orbison and Roxy Music, “While The Getting’s Good” slides in on a bed of shimmering and twisting reverberated guitar sounds. A tight and carefully constructed piece “Attraction” shows many of the Robot Raven’s most important and typical trademarks, both in sound and composition.
It’s almost impossible to have a particular favorite song among these tracks, but the closer, “Don’t Wait ‘Til I’m Dead”, easily lends itself to many an ear with its infectious chorus and bluesy bar-room groove. There will be a good contingent of fans that will rate “Set to Soar” as an indelible testimony to rock’s enduring legacy.
And it’s easy to see where they’re coming from – the concept and lyrics are excellent; the musical ideas are complex and expansive without becoming self-righteous; the vocal arrangements are as creative and significant as can be expected. Equally melodic and complex, Robot Raven is satisfyingly flexible due to the exceptionally broad skills of its members.
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