by Ryan Greenblatt
The Athens, Georgia music scene has been responsible for some very influential and even timeless bands including R.E.M., the B-52s, and Widespread Panic. Emerging from this same bastion of musical-creativity is the Afro-inspired, synth-pop powerhouse, Reptar. If you thought to yourself, “what the hell happened to MGMT on that second album?” (HEY! I like psychedelic turns), or you really enjoy Vampire Weekend, then they are perfect for you. I’ll admit that on my initial listen, I did not particularly like their new album Body Faucet, but I think that came more from a place of choosing to disregard them based on their obvious– some might contend hipster– influences, and less on the material itself. Upon my second and third listen I actually really started to enjoy the music. It also helps that I have seen Reptar live, so I already have the confidence that this isn’t merely studio-tricks: they can pull this off live.
The album starts off with a crescendo of synth sounds, beckoning you to strain your hears for closer inspection, and then immediately bursts into full on auxiliary-percussive bliss amidst a catchy drum beat, bells, and well-placed tambourine. The first track, titled “Sebastian,” comes equipped with a chorus of ‘oh oh oh ohs’ done in a gang-vocal styling (think you and your friends all happily singing in the car together) that’s shooting for the sky; these guys know the “big chorus” is the surest way to implant pop-glory in the brains of listeners. By the time the first song is over I could hear touches of Talking Heads, as well as the aforementioned MGMT and Vampire Weekend, but let’s be honest here: all of those artists owe a TON to Paul Simon, and if you can put away any personal musical pretension you might have (haters gon’ hate), you’re most likely already nodding along. The second track, “Please Don’t Kill Me,” further showcases these influences sounding like a modern rip on Graceland, but the lyrics recall David Byrne more than Simon, and hey, if you’re going to imitate another artist, Paul Simon and David Byrne are pretty, pretty, pretty good ones to emulate. It’s important to note here that during this song I start to get the sense that these guys are weird, and I LIKE weird. The song is laden with tribal drums, shakers and Latin rhythms as well, but much less synthesizer than the first song.
On “Isoprene Bath” I start to get wind of just how catchy these hooks are, and this is the first song I immediately like. It has more of an indie-vibe than the first two, but still captures that West-African/Carribean feel with the guitar part fitting nicely over a marimba sound. The lyrics seem to vary between meaningful and absurd a la Talking Heads from the line, “No matter what your daddy is/Life goes on and on again” to “Rabbits eat and rabbits screw/Hair grows long all over you” later– all I got to say is: “Amen brother.” “Orifice Origami” is easily one of the catchiest songs on the album, it starts with a sung bass line that sounds similar to the robot-voice Daft Punk would use, coupled with layers of bass-guitar and xylophone (don’t diss the xylophone homie!) and cranks into heavy bass-synth for the remainder of the song. This is the track you blast at the party, and I can’t help but think of people doing that jump from leg to leg dance that you see in Debbie Gibson videos from the 80s (or like the spoofs in How I Met Your Mother), arms swingin’, with everyone all-smiles and jubilation. Another high-note on the record is the chorus on “Houseboat Babies,” in which lead singer Graham Ulicny calls out “can you feel it!?” and is answered with a resounding, gang-vocal style response “yes I can feel it!,” that will surely have you screaming in your friends faces while shimmying out of control on the dance floor.
There are a total of twelve songs on Body Faucet, and unfortunately after track five it starts to feel like the amalgam of Reptar’s various influences is distracting them. “Natural Bridge” has a doo-wop style drumbeat and completely drops the Simon-esque, West-African rhythms in favor of 50s surf-rock guitar tones. The song feel like a sort of weird, synth-led love song that for some reason has a growling, Tom Waits-ian style vocal section– but who else is pulling that off? Though I do feel like this detracts from the song– and even the record– it does contain my favorite lyric on the entire album: “I feel so f*cking weird when I go to bed at night”– I refuse to believe I’m the only one who relates to that sentiment. They further lose focus, in my opinion, with the out and out ballad, “Ghost Bike,” which is actually a really sad song, and I even remember thinking after listening to it the first time that I hoped the song was made up. “Ghost Bike” seems out of place on an otherwise very joyful sounding album, but I do feel Reptar deserves credit for at least producing a different take on the car-accident song genre, with what I view as an almost a hipster-homage congruent with the times– and likely Reptar’s socio-economic backgrounds– because the accident involves a couple riding bikes.
The band starts to come back around with “Thank You Gliese 370 B” and “Sweet Sipping Soda.” The former is a synth and guitar led song that is part Tears for Fears and part Kenny Loggins via Top Gun (just F’n listen to it before you decide to strangle me for that one), and the cowbells are FINALLY back (yay!). “Sweet Sipping Soda” captivates listeners by exploiting a catchy-rhythm that starts out sounding like one of the preset beats from those old, but loveable Casio keyboards. Throughout the song that same rhythm is strategically passed around between bass, synthesizer, guitar and drums creating a sort of rhythmic-hook. The song pulses with a ‘four-on-the-floor’ bass drum stomp and a ton of auxiliary percussion that keeps it moving, and listeners grooving. “Sweet Sipping Soda” also features a synth sound very akin to the one used on Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” which I can’t attest to it’s intentionality, but I approve. BIG TIME.
The record ends with one last attempt at pop glory in the song, “Water Runs.” Though it starts slow, seemingly slipping into the clichéd sappy-last song category, it’s piano-driven, gang-vocals make for a “big chorus” send off worthy of ending the album. Body Faucet is an exceedingly fun record, and the songs make you want to get up and dance. I can imagine putting this on at a party and people really jamming. If there is any lyrical theme on the record, it seems to be based on the “human-experience,” and I chose the word ‘human’ specifically because of Ulicny’s reference to the word in “Houseboat Babies” where he ends the song singing, “Sweat/ Sweat/Sweat/Human.” In relation to this, there is also a sense of empathy on the record that is visible when the band addresses what are largely universal experiences including: losing friends over time, and growing up. Though I think many forget, or refuse to admit, the times we live in are similarly hard for young people just as they have been in the past, and I think everyone can relate to the self-doubt and uncertainty that accompanies getting older. This album is largely a happy one, but if you listen closely there are lyrics with meaning that hark back to this theme such as in “Water Runs:” “But if you see me running down the street/Say I wanna be your friend/It’s a phrase I don’t say often enough.” It would be easy to take a more cynical approach and dismiss these themes as the lamentations of middle-class, twenty-something’s facing “problems,” but the utter surrealism of reality, of which I admit not everyone is willing to recognize, leads me to believe that everyone’s “problems” deserve their due and therefore the empathy I mentioned before is not a waste because it is sincere.
Is Reptar’s Body Faucet going to change your life? I doubt it. But it’s entertaining, and it’s catchy. I have probably nit-picked it way more than any average listener, so I’ll end with this: if you were down with the Oracular Spectacular, you’re looking to fill the void between Vampire Weekend albums, or you’ve at least seen the “You Can Call Me Al” music-video then I suggest you check it out.