Robot vs Rabbit - "Trading The Witch For The Devil"
(Mandragora Records 2002)
From Aural Innovations #19 (April 2002)
Those of you who have read my earlier Robot vs Rabbit reviews (see AI #'s 16 & 17) will know that I've enjoyed the band's brand of improvised aggressive noise-psychedelia, my only real criticism being that they have difficulty carrying off lengthy excursions. So the first thing I noticed when I read over the track listing on Trading The Witch For The Devil is that 5 of the CD's 14 tracks are in the 2 minute and under range, and the lengthiest track is only 7 minutes. And indeed Robot vs Rabbit make much more concise and well thought out statements on this album while still allowing themselves the necessary room to develop the music. But what makes this their strongest release to date, of the albums I've heard, is the cooperation, contrast, and blending of noise and ambient elements. Sometimes I couldn't tell whether I was hearing aggression or pleasing cosmic psychedelia. Well... the aggression really wins out but I did enjoy the incorporation of more traditional floating psychedelic ingredients, as well as the healthy doses of avant-garde free-improv noise and ambient workouts.
Among the standout tracks on the CD is "Hiroshima". The music starts with a relaxing koto sounding bit, but very quickly dissolves into a dissonant wall of noise drone. It's like a noise-psych version of Stoner Rock, which is a bad analogy but the low thudding bass (or is it guitar?) near the beginning gives it that kind of feel. In any event, this is some seriously psychotic psychedelia and the band do an impressive job of blasting out brain shattering guitar hostility that is varied and includes individual sounds that are more distinct amidst the clutter than I've noticed on their previous releases. "La Bruja" is another cool track that brought to mind a paranoid schizophrenic African percussion ensemble on acid. Interesting drum patterns provide the foundation for this piece, with brain piercing space-noise guitar oozing a pulsating cacophony of sonic swirl. Be brave and put on the headphones and you'll realize that despite the fact that your brain is in agony that there's really an ambient quality to the music... in a twisted less-than-meditative way.
"Kuate Palace - Three Piece Suite" features even more intriguing percussion parts. Relative to much of Robot vs Rabbit's music this is pretty trippy stuff. We have the expected drones and of course there's an element of noise, but there's also a powerful cosmic quality as the drone has a didgeridoo sound to it that acts as a mantra to focus on, and the music just kind of floats along like an Eastern influenced psych tune. I really dig "Pneumonia" which is like a harsher version of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive". And "Painted Men / Yarmar Uprising" is a total psychedelic freakout with wild loops and a general roller coaster ride acid trip feel.
In summary, this is easily the best album I've heard from Robot vs Rabbit yet. The harsh noise elements that characterizes their music are as prominent as ever, but they also incorporate lots of more conventional cosmic styled psychedelia which I think has made them a stronger unit, the music more varied, and certainly more palatable.
For more information you can visit the Robot vs. Rabbit web site at: http://www.robotvsrabbit.net.
Trading The Witch For The Devil will be distributed by Mandragora Records You can visit their web site at: http://www.mandragora.com/.
Contact via snail mail c/o Mandragora Records; PO Box 936; Northampton, MA 01061-0936.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz