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The Tea Club - Rabbit CD (album) cover

RABBIT

The Tea Club

 

Crossover Prog

3.95 | 88 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Got Rabbit? One of 2010's finest albums

What do revolutions, re-invented wheels, clocks that don't work, scarecrows, and Moonfreaks have in common? They were the curios and relics of General Winter's Secret Museum, the 2008 full length debut by The Tea Club, one of today's most passionate American progressive rock bands. It was my pleasure to hear their mysterious, hugely rewarding follow-up "Rabbit" and to write an early review. [Note: Since I wrote this review, I've learned that The Tea Club line-up has changed. We'll cover the changes in my interview with them, but I've decided to leave this review as written, to honor the people who made this album.]

The Tea Club and producer Tim "Rumblefish" Gilles invested a great deal of heart in this album and their efforts have paid off. It's a piece of work that takes the promise of General Winter and brings it to another level. It feels mysterious, with some slightly dark undercurrent, more ambitious, more complex, a much longer walk down the moonlit trail. This is a "proggier" album than General Winter which had a post-punk energy and was defined as a Crossover album via some very accessible, downright catchy rock hooks. Rabbit does not give up its secrets as easily, the listener here must spend some time immersing themselves into the musical world laid forth. For The Tea Club did not choose a more commercial path here, this is a band dedicated to their own sound and they've stayed true to it.

On Rabbit the substantial talents of brothers Pat and Dan McGowan become even more apparent. They share the guitar and vocal duties but not in the traditional lead guitar/rhythm guitar sense. In fact there isn't much "lead" guitar on the album if your definition is based upon guitar solos. Instead they unite their guitars to paint atmosphere by weaving odd chords, tunings, and notes around each other, and they seem to have a very intuitive musical relationship which compliments the other. The same is true of the vocals. While they trade off lead vocals and both sing with intensity and passion, there is an added layer of magic which comes from their crucial harmonies, the combined sound of the dual guitars and vocals is something to behold and is now certainly a band trademark. With this album Becky Osenenko is now firmly on board and beginning to make her imprint on the Tea studio sound. Her playing is thick and reassuring, a grounding force against the freedom of the McGowan guitar style. And then there is Kyle Minnick, who on the second album has taken a huge leap forward in his playing. Here the drumming is literally propulsive and agile, at times reminding me of the Oceansize or Mars Volta drummers, and if I dare invoke the name there is some Moon-like energy to this guy. Another important note on Rabbit is the addition of guest keyboardist Tom Brislin, an amazingly adept player who has toured with Yes, Camel, The Syn, and Renaissance. His contribution adds some delicious new layers to the cake, from flowing atmospheres to well timed melodic flourishes. These additions push the sound to something richer, but importantly, without ever placing complexity or veils above the raw directness of the humanity here. There is still some punk rock in the Tea Club vein, an insistence that their take on "prog" must not abandon immediacy. You might say this is the second Tea Club trademark.

Together the four are now a complete force capable of pursuing the limits of their compositional imaginations. We should be in for quite a ride, one which is rich and whimsical, ferocious and delicate in equal measure. There are nightmares here being explored, yet my feeling is that the Tea world is one in which beauty and hope prevail over the dark side. It is human emotion examined with complete sincerity, the stories are the work of imagination, yet never does it feel pretentious or fake. The opening of the album is incredible with these wispy guitar notes floating down among keyboards and a big bass/drums build-up to the vocal. When the first rock part pauses and it gets quiet there are lovely piano notes against the frisky bass. Wonderful stuff. Spooky guitars open "Diamondized" with what sounds like spiderwebs, before it softens into a fragile dance of guitar and bass notes, mimicking with sound the rather troubled state described in the lyrics. "The Night I Killed Steve Shelley" is barely contained rumble, slowly and emphatically laying down the cryptic vocal lines until the band finally breaks into almost pure heavy space-jam with lots of sckrunch to the guitar growls. "Royal Oil Can" is the sparsest and most beautiful piece yet, with mainly acoustic finger-picking as the backing for their wintry yet warm harmonies. It plateaus into sunnier sentiments with a proclamation that "the love that you were seeking was worth waiting for." I'll save lyric discussion for my interview with the band, but throughout the lyrics are every bit as fascinating as the musical stories.

"Out of the Oceans" contains perhaps the grooviest, most infectious rock passages harkening back to General Winter's strength, with powerfully reaching vocals near the end. "He is like a Spider" is such impressive interplay between the members, Kyle is literally out of his mind here, tapping into his own dialogue of fills. "Nuclear Density Gauge" offers more heavy, spacey bombast and almost a brisk shuffle beat. Now comes the finale of "Tumbleweeds" and "Astro." An album of beautiful moments gets no more memorable than the vocal of "Tumbleweeds," again set to acoustic guitar and bass, no drums. An amazing lyric and vocal fills the listener with imagery and emotion as successfully as something like "A Pillow of Winds" from Meddle. All previous explorations throughout lead to the epic closer "Astro" which I believe is the first TC studio track over 10 minutes. This is the track where Brislin's keyboards most add serious poignancy to the great songwriting, his gorgeous piano falls in with splashes of melody during certain repeating passages. Becky and Kyle are just unbelievable on "Astro", I love it when any "rhythm section" moves beyond their "duties" into something more lively and conscious. The sideways kick of the "no stories, no glories" bit and the many different sections give this track epic proggy feel. And again the singing is as if their very lives depended on it, especially during those closing exaltations which wrap several tracks. The songs are well written and emotionally gripping which is what really pulls me into The Tea Club. They combine so well the energy and spirit of their youth with a certain world weariness and emotional immediacy, which I think allows their sound wider appeal.

Rabbit is true adventures in other worlds, sonic and otherwise. These are tracks which are earnest and intimate. After many spins the full impact comes through: hidden melodies, endless energies, and great intuitions on where they should go with the pieces. Wonderful usage of the colors of sound. Much of the artwork again comes from the band which I love because it breaks down barriers between artist and listener. The lovely and mysterious cover art was created by Kendra DeSimone (www.kendradesimone.com) and shows Rabbit holding court in a moonlit clearing. Surrounding him are the creatures of the wood and while at first glance it appears the moon is casting shadows, you'll note they all cast in unnatural directions toward Rabbit. This is not cookie-cutter prog from either modern or retro shapes, this is prog from the gut and the rustle of leaves. These are songs which blew in on the wind of a winter eve, with the ever present Tea Club moon always overhead. About 4.25 stars if you want to split hairs, and easily on my best of 2010 list. And it ain't even RPI.....what gives?

(Check out our Tea Club interviews in the "Interviews" section of the Forum.)

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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