The Low Power Hour

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Roto originally began as a live band for ex-Grendel brain trust David Arbury and Carleton Ingram, who provided all the melodies and then invited a different drummer to sit in for each show. The Low Power Hour is surprisingly faithful to that experimental premise. The duo selected a trio of their favorite drummers (John Davis and Harris Klahr of Q and Not U, and Justin Moyer of El Guapo and Edie Sedgwick), each of whom selected which songs they wanted to add their parts to. But although the revolving trap-seat approach to beat-keeping is the central conceit of the recording, it really is Arbury and Ingram's show. It is their choppy, twining vocals and stark, ominous guitar-bass skeletons that provide the frameworks for the music. Other than the computer beats and manipulation provided by Charles Jamison (of Landspeedrecord!) on "Wrecking Ball," none of the third-party contributions overwhelm the duo's own tunes. And with only a few exceptions, the songwriting is terrific, an organic punk drum'n'bass with snaking melodies constructed out of dark, unconventional minor chords. Atonal, Beefheartian moments erupt at times (the outstanding, almost psychedelic "The Ground") as do Middle Eastern lines and Hindi percussiveness ("Time Trial"), while "Pipeline" sounds like a fragmented, post-punk update of Spirit. "Trickster" could double as a thinly veiled musical reference to Tricky, and the wasted, blunt-dusted bass grooves and discordant scrapyard guitar of the song would not be out of place on one of the Brit's albums. The lyrics are occasionally caustic, polemical, and pointed in the tradition of the Washington, D.C., scene, taking on the historic governmental mistreatment of Native Americans in several instances and television on "Low Power FM," although they opt for more general protestations. Even the relationship songs are imbued with a steely, uncompromising mood and are willfully anti-romantic, anti-rose-colored lens. It is difficult going but nevertheless oddly engaging music, full of grappling introspection and hypnotically misshapen moments.

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