There’s nothing I like more than telling a good story, and Rabbit Rabbit Radio are, in and of themselves, a spectacular tale to tell! The brainchild of Carla Kihlstedt and Mattias Bossi, supported constantly and with great acumen by John Evans, this is truly “a band apart”, existing in a universe of its own. As the name suggests, “Year Of The Wooden Horse” is their third collection of songs, and it is as amazing and enthralling as all of their previous efforts, and then some.
RELEASE DATE: 01 July 2015 LABEL: Self-released
I say “collection of songs” instead of “release”, simply because it’s not entirely fair to refer to it by the former name, because of the band’s unusual output method. You see, back in 2012, Carla and Mattias decided to do away with record labels and intermediaries, so they set up a system: you could subscribe to their website, and once a month, on the first day of said month, they would offer a new song, a DIY video, a list of things you might enjoy doing or pondering that month, a gallery of snapshots of their lives, and who knows what else? Subscriptions were tiered, but the content was the same – enabling you to support them as much as you could, without feeling like you’re missing out on anything. At the end of the year, they would announce the release of the year’s collection of songs in a Volume, which could be enjoyed as a one-time purchase. The feeling of connection and intimacy that this system allowed is simply unparalleled in my experience. You got to truly love and care for these people with each monthly update. The creativity employed was just thrilling – for example, 2014 saw the release of Volume 2 “Swallow Me Whole”, which could only be downloaded if you bought a gorgeous limited-edition silk-screen print of the cover artwork, with the download code written on the back.
Of course, this creativity doesn’t only refer to these auxiliary things – musically, they’re one of the most mercurial bands I’ve ever heard, able to switch from one style to the next with uncanny ease. “Volume 3: The Year Of The Wooden Horse” is perhaps the best example of this staggering ability of theirs, as it is the result of a whole year the couple have spent inviting guest guitarists for each song in turn. The variety is unprecedented, even for them, as the tracks go from grunge to surf-rock, from punk to prog and everything in between. This album is the kind of whirlwind that goes through a pile of parts and leaves behind a fully assembled F-16 fighter jet, a completely mad and overwhelming foray into the bold, beautiful and bizarre minds of the artists involved. I have only had similar feelings towards other projects in which Carla Kihlsted and/or Mattias Bossi were involved: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, The Book of Knots, Cosa Brava, Tin Hat… and so it goes on and on, their creative output unbound and immeasurable.
“The Year Of The Wooden Horse” sounds urgent and fierce, with great production quality, which is quite a feat, considering that many of the parts you hear on the album were recorded all over the world by the invited guitarists, and then sent to Rabbit Rabbit Radio for completion. Nothing sounds out of place and there are no jarring moments or mishaps of any kind, or at least none that I could hear. As for the performances themselves, I admit I am severely biased by a loving relationship with their music in its various incarnations, which goes back a decade now; however, I feel like the album is simply flawless on that account. Each and every song is played with supreme confidence, even allowing for humor on some of them, even when they delve into the deepest chasms of avant-garde experimentation. The hardest to love track on the record, “Universal Elixir”, is still expertly handled, and acts as a catalyst for deep thought, rather than scaring the listener away. Carla Kihlstedt’s voice reaches the perfect balance between sensuality and intelligence, and more than this, conveys that chimera with each note, not to mention her jaw-dropping violin performances on “Rabbit Rondo” and “Morning Song”. Mattias Bossi’s drumming is gentle, robust, subtle and raging, all of these at precisely the right time, and his rich vocals are truly hypnotic at times. Tracks like “All Over Again” showcase phenomenal superimpositions of tones and timbres; the guitar’s tremolo is perfectly twinned with his resonant voice, and this surprising accuracy and perfect coordination within a maelstrom of diversity becomes a defining trait for the record as a whole, as it has in all of their previous work.
Their previous Volumes were far less guitar-driven, and I must admit I found myself missing Carla’s violin playing here and there, but 2014’s project was dedicated to the guitar, and that is exactly what we got: a spectacular showcase of the guitar’s versatility. And who could be unhappy with that, even if it does prove to be slightly restrictive? I assure you, “Year Of The Wooden Horse” is a trap (much like the Trojan horse of myth) that is almost impossible to escape once you start playing. By all means, open the gates without hesitation!
Rabbit Rabbit Radio’s entire back catalog is available on their Bandcamp page, and there are great things to look forward to in the future, even though their monthly musical output is on hiatus for now – they are working on a record inspired by the oceans and seas, on which they offer updates regularly.