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Music Review: The Rakes – Klang

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The Rakes debut, Capture/Release, was one of my favorite albums of 2005. I loved their energy, and the way they combined the sneering of punk with the jagged guitars and melodrama of new wave. It was one of those albums that made you do air guitar, that made you want to get up and dance, or at least flail around.

When 2007’s Ten New Messages saw them mellowing out and exploring new styles, I took a pass. I had already had my heart broken when Supergrass abandoned their snotty punk sound for a more mature direction, and I wasn’t about to follow another group of British punks on their voyage to adulthood.

Lucky for me that the Rakes new album, Klang has them regressing to a rawer, faster, more immediate sound. It begins with the driving stop/start of “You’re in It,” with singer Alan Donahoe singing “Sometimes you can’t smell the shit ’til you’re in it.” “That’s The Reason” maintains the breakneck pace, while “Bitchin’ In the Kitchen” slows it down enough for the band (and listener) to catch their breath.

“1989,” the first single from the album, sees the Rakes reciting their street poetry over a driving melody. “As the dawn rubs up against our aching head/Girls light up pull there hoods up tight/Stuck the money in your bra that you made last night,” sings Donahoe.

Klang at times sounds almost manic. On songs like “Shackleton” and “The Woes of the Working Woman,” they sound like they are losing it. Donahoe’s voice hits a shrill pitch, and the band pounds on relentlessly. They are at their best when they reign themselves in a touch, like on the sublimely melodic “The Light From Your Mac,” which sounds like vintage Richard Hell.

It’s fitting that the Rakes third album was recorded in a Bauhaus-designed ex-Soviet radio station in East Berlin. Their angular punk channels an era when there there was still a Soviet Union and an East Germany. There is also a coldness to their music that brings to mind housing blocs freezing in a dreary Eastern European winter.

The band is more blunt about the reason for the change of location. “The London music scene is so dull right now – it’s like wading through a swamp of shit,” they explain in their press release. The change of scenery clearly did them well, given the sense of urgency in the ten songs on this album.

Sadly, this is the last album for the Rakes, as they decided to pack it in on the eve of their U.S. tour, citing an inability to give 100% anymore. That’s sadly ironic, given that on Klang they sound better than ever.

At least they left a beautiful corpse, and had the dignity to call it a day before becoming a pale shadow of their former selves. Klang is an excellent album, and a fitting posthumous tribute to a band that coulda’ been contenders.

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