Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11: The Rondelles, "Distraction"

Artist: The Rondelles
Song: "Distraction"
Album: Fiction Romance, Fast Machines
Year: 1998

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In the case of nearly every artist or band, it takes a considerable amount of time for the complete sound or aim to develop, as with experience often comes a better understanding of music in general.  However, one can look at this the completely opposite way and argue that there is something to be said for the "blissful ignorance" of a band that simply plays as hard as they can, as by not knowing any better, there are no thoughts or notions to cloud or alter their sound.  While almost every time the latter happens, it is nothing worth noting, every once in a great while, this can lead to absolutely brilliant musical recordings.  There has rarely been a better example of this idea than the unique blend of pop, retro, and punk that can be found within the music of The Rondelles, and there is a raw, yet stunning tone to their entire 1998 debut, Fiction Romance, Fast Machines.  Writing a majority of the songs while the band members were still in high school, the record was released by the label owned by Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, and there are moments on the record where one can hear a connection between the two bands.  However, in almost every aspect, the sound of The Rondelles is completely distinctive, and the amount of noise and attitude that the trio is able to inject into their music is truly uncanny.  Though there is not an "off" moment anywhere on the record, one can quickly understand the unique musical brilliance that "is" The Rondelles within their magnificent 1998 song, "Distraction."

The song, which opens the album, sets a very high bar for the quality and mood of the rest of the record, as the distorted guitar from Juliet Swango rings across the track with all of the majesty and impact of the greatest punk songs in history.  There is almost instantly a sway to the song, and yet "Distraction" also gains its unrelenting drive through this aspect of the song.  The other two members of the band quickly join the fray, and bassist Yukiko Moynihan adds a sharp groove to the arrangement, while drummer Oakley Munson pushes it along at an almost feverish pace.  There is a dry, almost untouched feel to the combined sound of the trio, and it is this straightforward sound that instantly hooks the listener.  Clearly, the trio also has a great understanding of how to work musical tension, as the brief pauses at the end of each verse give "Distraction" a feeling of continually falling over the edge, and it makes the song enjoyable in a completely unique manner.  Later on the song, Munson also adds what may be the most distinctive aspect of the music of The Rondelles: the retro-sounding keyboard.  It is the fact that the pulsating progressions fit so perfectly into their powerful punk mix that sets them apart from the rest of their peers, and the fact that the overall tone of the song is never lost is all the proof one needs to argue the high level of talent within the group.  In many ways, "Distraction" is one giant hook, and much like the rest of the album, once you hear the song, it can never be forgotten.

Adding the ideal finishing touch to the song, the voice of Juliet Swango can be compared to a number of other artists, and yet she does not completely fit into any other description.  Much like the music over which she sings, there is an attitude and presence within her vocals that captivates the listener, and at the same time, one cannot help but sing along with many parts of the song.  On "Distraction," she works the entire vocal range, and few performers have been able to work as wide a set of notes with the ease that one can experience on this song.  It is also the way in which the pushes her voice at different points that reinforces the mood, and it is nothing short of stunning when one considers how young the band was when the song was recorded.  The youthful spirit of her voice is unlike anything else, and it is this aspect that proves to be one of the most intriguing of all of the amazing sounds that The Rondelles deploy.  However, it is also the way in which her voice perfectly captures the emotions of the songs that is so fantastic, and one cannot help but be drawn in by the innocent, easily relatable lyrics.  Understandably, a majority of the lyrics seem to deal with youthful crushes and frustration, and in its own beautiful way, "Distraction" is a love song that knows no match.  While they are complex in their own, unique style, it is the combination of the simple phrasing, and absolutely mesmerizing voice of Swango that completes the perfection of "Distraction."

Through all of these amazing musical achievements, one cannot help but draw comparisons from The Rondelles to many of the great "girl groups" of the 1950's and 60's, and even in their name, one can assume that this was rather intentional.  The way in which Swango manages to tackle the ideas of the innocence of young love is very similar to the way in which these themes were approached by groups like The Shangri-La's, and this shows an amazing understanding of a generation of music from which The Rondelles were far removed.  Yet there is also the presence of the punk movement that is woven deep into the bands' sound, and one can safely assume that everyone from The Go-Go's to Liz Phair had influence of the shape of The Rondelles.  It is the way in which the band is able to take these diverse examples and mix them into something entirely new that makes them so fantastic, and yet one can only be frustrated by the fact that the bands' career was so short lived.  However, the entire Fiction Romance, Fast Machines album, which takes its name from a Buzzcocks song, is as close to musical perfection as one will find anywhere, and one can easily argue that it is very much the fact that the group was "not over-thinking" the album that makes it so wonderfully unique.  Combining soaring vocals with as much punk attitude as one could want, there is simply no other song in history that packs the same punch as one can experience in The Rondelles' 1998 track, "Distraction."

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