Race To Neptune – Oh Contraire – Album Review
Long before I even got into this review-writing racket, I was convinced beyond doubt that you could in fact, judge music by its cover and have your assumptions confirmed 99% of the time. I’m not saying that a record, tape or cd needed to have the most amazing picture…I’m just saying when it came to purchasing music from an artist or band I didn’t know yet, that those album-covers were often the beacon I could hone in on to see if there was any insight on whether or not the band was just making another album, or attempting something perhaps more artistic, more rewarding.
I still believe that. The internet might have made it harder to scrutinize each and every cover…it might have made it so that the fabulousness of the era of liner-notes has all but disappeared…but I still believe that bands that have a vision take the time to get everything from the music to the art to become as enticing as possible – just like Race To Neptune has here with their new album Oh Contraire. You don’t end up with a rad album-cover like that by accident – that’s what I’m saying; you can tell this is going to be an experience…that Race To Neptune more than likely has something here over the course of nine-songs that’s going to be different from the rest.
Now…you could TRY to tell me that I’m wrong about ALL of this…you could. Or you could dig further like I did and find that Race To Neptune proudly includes innovative alternative/indie names in music within their influences on social-media like The Cure, Modest Mouse, The Pixies, Built To Spill, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr., Explosions In The Sky and many more examples that ALSO have not happened to be listed by accident. When a band is really putting the effort in…all the bases are covered and all the clues are out there for public consumption.
Essentially…what I’m saying…is that on my own personal radar, the signal was coming through loud & clear that there was bound to be something special in the music of Race To Neptune long before I even pushed play on Oh Contraire.
And I’m proud to say that they sure didn’t let me down with that assumption. As far as I can tell – they’ve been around since 2012 but this is their official debut record. I think in some ways as the album progresses through its nine songs you’ll get that feeling that Race To Neptune is looking to get it all out at once – but I also have no doubt that you’ll find what you hear as impressive as I did. With an indie set of tones from the guitars and drum-rhythms to start the record, “Wanderlilly” provides a sweetened alternative energy and hints at the strong ideas that Race To Neptune is capable of creating. I love the way this song evolved and thought it was a tremendous start and first impression – “Wanderlilly” morphs into a more space-rock laden atmosphere throughout the bulk of its middle and finds its most impressive gears. Vocals upfront sound like a solid match…I dig the backing vocals and the bass stood out immediately on the first track in all the right ways – a trend that immediately continues on “Cigars And Celebrations.”
So…okay…first of all…this entire track is…hmm…beyond genius? What’s the word for that? It’s really, really damn good…”Cigars And Celebrations” is pretty much everything I want to hear, all day long. So much I want to say about this song…I could write an essay here. Basically, it boils down to the fact that they’ve found a way to successfully update the early sound of The Cure perfectly here and combines it with truly powerful dynamics and a progressive structure that takes it all to the next-level entirely. And ALRIGHT bass-man…you got me…time to look this dude up and get credit to where credit is due…Ken Cavanaugh – sir, YOU are a name I will absolutely remember. What’s being laid down on “Cigars And Celebrations” is an award worthy performance on the bass, that’s what that is right there…I know one when I hear one and you can’t fool me with all that awesomeness. I will say this however…as good as the bass may be in this song – it’s truly a highlight for the entire band and they kick this song into gear so impressively that shout-outs indeed should be made to the full lineup with Vanessa Freese killing it on the drums and Brian Maier & Zach Berger providing the radness on the guitars. “Cigars And Celebrations” already has ALL this working for them…the captivating pull of this song begins immediately but BUCKLE-UP because this ride seriously gets WILD. The chorus of this song is one of the most powerful and enormous, perfect & simple explosions of energy that I’ve heard in the past couple years…every time it kicked-in I loved it more. And then as if on cue – when the verse would come back around, I loved THAT even more…no matter what part was playing, it was my favorite part of the moment – and you gotta love a song that brings that kind of A-game! “Cigars And Celebrations” even makes an impressive amount of time for solos and instrumentation – and better yet, it’s ENTERTAINING! We’re not just talking your average wind’n’grind solos here – we’re talking innovative, creative ideas that make for a stunning moment in time on this track and a truly fantastic way to make the entire song move in unique directions that really work well to display their talent. Have I said enough about this song? I think you get the point by now – I absolutely LOVE this song.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to dig a song that much and not end up having a tougher time accepting whatever comes next…but that being said, I think that Race To Neptune did a great job by adding “Elysian Fields” as the third track on the record. It’s a strong song without a doubt…perhaps in fact one of the most focused by the band on the completeness of its ambitions and ideas – and I felt like it ended up holding its own solidly. I like that this band really seems to be one of equal-caliber, balanced-strength shared between as players and how it all adds-up for them in the extraordinary ideas they have. Like “Wanderlilly” at the beginning of the record – “Elysian Fields” also kind of reminds me of the band Feeder from the UK with its influx of imagination and branching-off from pop-rock melodies with a more alt-indie approach. Quality writing keeps the record flowing in the right direction and into a very strong middle coming up just around the corner…
The song you’ll love that you’re probably not expecting to is “Bulletful Of Piss.” I mean…c’mon people – if you’re a fan of the guitars, bass, drum combo and the extraordinary textures that made a band like Smashing Pumpkins amazing to listen to – you will LOVE this song and how it’s stripped right out of the Siamese Dream era. Sweeter in the vocal-department and more indie towards something like Death Cab For Cutie’s early material or more recently on our own pages, last year’s best-new sound The Quality Of Mercury. Credit to production here…because this is absolutely nailed as tight as it gets. The bass comes through impressively thick, the guitars sound spaced-out, tripped-out and incredibly versatile…and every once in a while, Race To Neptune is actually even kind enough to let Vanessa grab a sip of water or hit of oxygen! She’s gotta be quick to do it mind you…they keep her amazingly busy back there and a large portion of credit goes to her for keeping the drums vibrantly entertaining throughout this entire record. My favorite drummers have similar styles…certainly capable of keeping the beat, but also brilliant in the way that they contribute to a band’s sound & songwriting – and I really think that Race To Neptune has found that insightful kind of player in Vanessa. The switch into instrumentation and that Siamese Dream-influenced style/sound takes complete hold of this band as they hit the middle of “Bulletful Of Piss,” ride it to the end of the tune and enter an even finer-example of crafting this sound into their own perfectly on “Iron Satire.”
Twice on this record, Race To Neptune has lowered my jaw to the ground in absolute amazement with what they’ve written and how they’ve performed it. Early on with “Cigars And Celebrations” and again, right in the middle of the record with “Iron Satire” – choosing between which I love more would be my own version of Sophie’s Choice and I’m not willing to make it…I think both these moments on the record are absolutely extraordinary. I’ll put it to you as best I can…I was really enjoying myself up to the 2:20-mark of this song…things were chilled-out, I was digging the sweet sway of the vibe in the vocal-melody and gentle, inviting flow “Iron Satire” – and then they went and done hit the switch into immaculate brilliance once more, pumping a full-on second-life into this track. Words don’t cover it people – that’s a memorable moment in time right there is what that is – the middle of “Iron Satire” is one of the most massive highlights on the entire album and a fine example of this band’s most stunning instrumentation.
Oh Contraire continues on its impressive streak of creativity and imaginative music with “Constant Collapse,” which brings in some seriously looming drama and menace to the sound in the verse. The chorus on this one has a bizarre effect on the listening experience in the sense that you can feel it coming, yet it still has enough force for you to still feel the shock in the switch. Perhaps a bit edgier on “Constant Collapse” – it gets pretty wild overall throughout its entire structure, blending alternative sounds like a bent combination of Primus something more like L7; definitely a massive-grunge influence on the sound of what we hear but written in a much more progressive-style than you’d expect from the genre. The sound of the drums on this song are 100% amazing to listen to…they’re like thunder in the opening, making for a really menacing texture & atmosphere to lead us into this tune. Excellent ideas on the guitars…it’s a darkly artistic tune that shows a lot of care in its crafting. “Constant Collapse” makes for an interesting shift in the direction & style of Race To Neptune and pulls out some tricks that I felt like we hadn’t heard from them up to this point on the record, proof that they’re a band capable of expressing themselves in many, many forms. They continue to display further uniqueness in “Blue Skies So Burned” which has a seriously highlight-worthy chorus and instrumentation working in its favor. Verse…I was more tossed up on that…it works fine – but there’s no doubt about the amount of punch that the chorus on “Blue Skies So Burned” brings out in this song. Great pacing leads the way to a dynamic & versatile structure that ranges from a gentle-sweetness to edgy-distortion & psychedelic solos…the middle of “Blue Skies So Burned” was what really did it for me – instrumentation & musicianship reign supreme from extreme-to-extreme in the transitions of this song. Extra-credit to the fantastic harmonies on “Blue Skies So Burned” as well though…I thought they nailed the sound here in the mix on those and brought out the contrasting beauty in the vocals strongly through those as well.
If anything…I’d argue that the results do get a bit more mixed after “Iron Satire” as far as the focus/cohesiveness of the record is concerned. After that midway-point of the record, Race To Neptune seems more bent on displaying a range of capabilities and styles as opposed to really locking into the grooves they had found at the beginning of the record. Like I’ve been saying a lot in the past-while – I think it ends up being a good thing for a band at the start of their career to do this…even though it might not always make for the most complete/cohesive sounding records, it does open the door to endless possibilities later on by mixing up the style/sound early-on like this. Right now Race To Neptune is still testing the waters…but make no mistake, they certainly know how to swim in any current. I might not fully dig on a track like “Bayou Brew” personally – but I’ve got absolutely zero qualms about the way they play it or the way it’s written. If I was to pick one of the nine to pull out of the album’s lineup though…well…that’s also no question for me, “Bayou Brew” might have been waiting for another opportunity later on down the line. SICK guitars in this cut you can’t help but admire for their energy, skill, precision & style. Do I think they’ve got one of the songs they would absolutely love to play live right here on the record? Yes. Yes I do. And it’s in that sense that I understand its inclusion. Like I said at the beginning somewhere…Race To Neptune has more than likely thrown in a couple highlights from their past five-years of ideas into the mix here – and I have no doubt that a song like “Bayou Brew” is the kind of song that would seriously fire-up a crowd. Proven success from the stage usually equates to a must-include cut on a record…but…with the boldly-different direction that “Bayou Brew” takes in comparison to literally/audibly every other track on the record…I might have held off on including this one in this particular set.
“Waterspout” ends this record on a justifiable high-note, shifting back into a chilled-out, dreamy, space-rock’n’rhythm tune for their final track. Race To Neptune’s got themselves some Chili Peppers-esque slow-funk/rock working in their favor at the core of this cut. Smart ideas fill the atmosphere and sound on “Waterspout” as the guitar-melodies drift us in & out hypnotically into the bass-grooves. Much more akin to the style & sound of what we heard at the beginning of the album, things come around full-circle here at the end on “Waterspout.” Excellent guitar melodies and tones on this cut, as well as some of my favorite ideas & execution in the vocal-department as well – it all adds up to a seriously satisfying ending to this record and solid rebound out of the bayou and back into the uniqueness of Race To Neptune’s alt/indie style. A great reminder of the stunning sounds and ideas that this band of four are capable of creating – I think when Race To Neptune continues to focus-in and hone-in on their strengths, they come out with really bold, confident execution and vibrant ideas like they’ve ended with on “Waterspout.” Without a doubt though – I’ve got a lot of confidence surrounding everything I’ve heard from Race To Neptune on Oh Contraire and found every reason to believe that this band could really go on to find great success in their future.
Find out more about Race To Neptune and support them at their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/RaceToNeptune
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