Review: Robot Raven, Greatest Hits, Part Two

Robot Raven, Greatest Hits, Part Two

07 Apr, 2016 Ken Bays

robotraven2Merriam-Webster defines an earworm as “a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind,” even after it’s no longer playing. It’s the tune you can’t get rid of, the one that keeps you awake at night, echoing through your cerebral cortex until you’re forced to grab your CD and listen to it. We’ve all had them; it’s such a ubiquitous phenomenon, in fact, that researchers in the last ten years or so have been studying how earworms happen — and how to get rid of them.

Robot Raven knows a thing or two about earworms. Not only do they have a song with that title on their latest album, Greatest Hits, Part Two — “Just a catchy number goin’ through my brain/Over and over repeatin’ the refrain,” go the lyrics — but they seem to be masters at creating those little auditory opiates, too. In the past year alone, they’ve issued two 18-track collections filled with more memorable hooks and riffs than you can shake a stick at. If you’re a sucker for a catchy melody, this recording outfit of mysterious origin will be right up your alley — especially if you’re also a devotee of classic rock, the genre that’s clearly at the heart of Robot Raven’s list of influences.

“Two Heads, One Heart” is the best example of the group’s fondness for throwing rock’s most memory-sticking elements into their musical stew. Stylistically it evokes the studio rock of a band like Alan Parsons Project, while a tense, nervy keyboard part and choppy, percussive guitar give it a New Wave tint. “I Want to Know You” goes a little further into rock’s back pages — no drums, no drama, just Kingston Trio folk harmonies over earnest acoustic strumming.

“Second Chance” is a minor-key burner whose sliding, swooping guitar lines echo the soft glow of George Harrison, though the vocal hews closer to the brittle sneer of Roger Waters. “Tonight” has the innocence and sweet melodic pull of an early Beatles ballad — think “If I Fell” or maybe “Nowhere Man” — while the aforementioned “Earworms” recalls something from the rockabilly revival of the early ’80s. The upbeat “Dreamacres,” a hoedown ode to farm life, is built on what sounds like the same backing track as “Finger Lickin’,” from the band’s other 2015 release, Greatest Hits, Part One, except this time there’s a whistling solo. “Winter’s on My Mind” is this album’s most charming cut; its wistful steel guitar flourish gives it both a country tint and a trace of the gauzy, hypnotic dream-pop of “Fade Into You” by ’90s alt-rockers Mazzy Star.

In truth, it’s a good thing that Robot Raven is so skilled at composing catchy riffs and melodies, because their lyrics can be rather vague. When you get to the part of “Winter’s on My Mind” that goes, “Maybe it’s the season/Feelin’ so left behind/Maybe it’s the weather, babe/Or a couple things combined,” one wants to ask the singer what those couple things are. A few caustic songs near the album’s start creates a listening juxtaposition — “Party Lines, Party Lies” attempts to make a case for the abolishment of America’s two-party political system, even humorously interpolating a bit of “Hail to the Chief” on guitar, but it fails to offer a better alternative. “Mr. Inappropriate” feels hypocritical in its demonizing of a guy who’s full of “opinions ‘bout politics/First one to pick a fight,” because, after all, that’s what political opinions are. And the narrator of “Ricochet” is downright obnoxious, wanting to “rain on your parade and watch you pout/You know I’d be there laughing out loud.” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with music being used to express resentment; it’s that Robot Raven, at its heart, spins an easy, breezy cotton candy rather than a big ole elephant ear.

Review by Ken Bays
Rating: 3.5 stars