Idiosyncratic lyrics. A vocalist who lilts from screeching to soothing like a catamaran -- without listing too far either way -- while delivering tone poems loudly and up tempo. Rocket Science’s freshman album offers more than the expected number of sonic twists.
Enough to make you forget 4-4 time without losing you in the fog of someone else’s idea of a thematic arch.
The tone poems evident on Foolscap, the debut album of this Toronto-based foursome aren’t expansive 7-minute-plus tours either. They’re heavier, looser and dirtier -- they get to the point.
Always tight and often bright, lead vocalist and power bassist Rob Higgins’ lyrics alternatively touch a nerve or remind you why you liked English class sometimes without dragging you into someone else’s idea of a narrative arch. Throughout Foolscap’s ten tracks, Higgin’s talent at innervatingly dark lyrical economy really shines in “Space Suit”:
I’m walking tall with crutches/’cause I got you in my clutches
Wearing one's psychic wounds as a badge of honor -- and a warning off. If this isn't exactly who Rocket Science is (and a good part of their listeners), it's damn close.
The decidedly Moogish backing synth of Bernard Miezza opposite Higgins’ vocal delivery on this track approaches the ethereal without becoming some self-conscious King Crimson retread.
Rush Bassist Geddy Lee adds a breathy backing vocal to his producer’s credit on this track to effect. (He also loaned out his home studio to the band.) Guest appearances are also made by the members of Sticky Rice and Ben Mink. Mink played the electronic violin on “Losing It” and has since sidelined with K.D. Lang and the Barenaked Ladies.
Drummer Daniel Cornelius and guitarists Richard Faima and Gordon Reilly also know when to show similar restraint. But all four members lean hard into “Losing an Edge” and “Be” before venting the disc’s closing track, “Poisonous gasses in supermarkets,” in a post coitus exhalation.
“Control,” the sixth track on the disc, provides possibly the most original take on the power-chord anthem recorded in the last two decades. Although it might be argued that this is largely because nobody would dare to record a power-chord anthem for fear of the gods that doomed Boston, all the better. Rocket Science’s flirtation with a sound that hits close to bare-ass metal and then withdraws into playful rhythm says something about the bravery of these guys.
If you’re going to re-hydrate the remains of a music tradition disparaged only an iota less than prog-rock, why not make an attempt to inject some punk sensibility and reinvent the wheel while doing it?
This boldness says more about Rocket Science the musicians. This is also evident in their use of digital sampling that never makes a clean break from the melody (Yes, I said melody!) of a composition just to hang the sign of art-rock in neon where nobody would miss it.
These are saving graces. Foolscap has more than its share.