Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley and Brad Kopplin
All be told, Rafter Roberts unquestionably knows his way around a studio. He's been behind the boards for some incredible records and bands, particularly Rogue Wave, The Fiery Furnaces, The Rapture, Sufjan Stevens, Liz Janes and Castanets (let us go on). Familiar as he is with what everything in the candy store does or is good for, Roberts' own music can exist and thrive in two different states and one has no affiliation with the candy or the store. His songs are presented in a Dirty Projectors, everything but the kitchen sink kind of way, on record most of the time and it allows the red-headed mastermind the opportunity to splash around in the mud puddles and have the time of his life drafting a work that bellows out the virtue of complete artistic freedom. If the inkling to do something strikes - adding flourishes and insulating these little pop songs with oodles of ideas and enough personality to cast a Coen brothers movie - he does it without hesitation.
Conversely, when he's put into a position where he has to MacGuyer his way through a set - using only what he and his bandmates have in their hands at the time (as they did with the session presented to you here) - Roberts pares the songs down to their veins and bones. You see their skeletal remains and they don't sound gaunt or lacking, rather, they take on a feeling of unforeseen, but planned intimacy. It's very pre-dawn or post-coital, depending on how you'd like to look at it. The true colors of these numbers seem to pop off the page and start licking you in the face, like a big hairy dog with sad eyes.
He tells of a ghastly piece of family history, when explaining his song "Tragedy" - of the murder of one of his favorite cousins by a serial killer - and it helps break out the line, "It's natural to get destroyed," which suggests that lives end, sure, but the manner in which they end can be even more lasting than nodding off for the final time and never waking up. It suggests just as much that lives occasionally, and without much rational cause, end with obliteration. The earthly contract is rescinded and you're forced out the door without a proper send-off or wake. Roberts makes a very leveling observation with his interpretation of songs from Music For Total Chickens and on the two new songs that fit the general malaise of the session.