Rational Academy, Swans

This is the second instalment in a series of mini-albums released by the Australian Someone Good label under the rubric ‘10 Songs In 20 Minutes’. The series offers exactly what the description provides – a punchy, ten-song introduction to a group’s work, clocking in at no more than 20 minutes. It’s an idea that’s obviously designed to privilege qualities of brevity and succinctness, but these are not generally qualities I value particularly highly in music, and they’re certainly not qualities to be cherished in respect of this particular release.

Listening to Swans (which I really hope is not a reference to the New York noise rock group) is like munching your way through a bag of sweets – a quick succession of sugary moments, enjoyable enough at the time but apt to leave you feeling queasy and unsatisfied by the end. The music is bright, literate pop with slightly scuffed edges, like Mercury Rev (with whose Jonathan Donahue the vocalist shares some similarities) without the manic inventiveness.

Sadly, it’s that very brightness that deals the album its fatal blow. The self-imposed time limit means that the group have little opportunity to extend their reach into more adventurous territory. Instead they set out their stall via inoffensive, chiming guitars and half-buried electronica. Thus compromised by a grave lack of ambition, Rational Academy remain stubbornly rational and primly academic. And the small print on the cover gives the game away: “this project has received financial assistance from the Queensland government”. So there you have it. Rational Academy: music for local authorities.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 19, 2011)

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