From the opening slow rising track through the march-like rhythms and resigned vocals that close this compact disc, Rotary Downs’ new Cracked Maps and Blue Reports hits on all cylinders. Over the last couple of years, Rotary Downs as a live band has grown more confident and assertive onstage, and this is reflected in this record. There is a certain muscle and authority in these songs, whether it is in the crispness of Zack Smith’s drums or the tightness in songs such as “Montrez-Vous” or “Wild Pink in Super 8.” However, James Marler’s light, almost-speaking style of singing mixes with the halfwhispers of background vocalist Tiffany Lamson to give a balancing, feminine energy to the intricate guitars and gunshot drums.
At times, this recording sounds like it comes out of late 1970s/early 1980s downtown New York or post-punk England. Tunes like “Bullet on a String” have the dirty low notes and chiming high notes that mark Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s interplay on Television’s Marquee Moon even though Rotary Downs’ songs never veer into the celestial improvisations of Television. Many of the songs on this record seem so tightly constructed that there is tension and anticipation that suggests the music will fly apart in wild chaos like the vibe of some of the early Talking Heads records.
Similar to the way New York punk rockers developed the doowop and psychedelic nuggets of the 1960s, Rotary Downs has a ’60s-style rave-up to make sure no one falls asleep or loses interest in the middle of the record. Said tune, “Black Ops,” has great opening lyrics of “Crash rocket demons / selling black market semen / to an epileptic Persian / on a leash / Bizarre acting dreamer/ feature fire-breathers / high on hashish.” The simple sound of those words together leading into crashing drums and whirling organ is a potent combination. However, this is not solely a retread from the past. Sonically, this sounds like a 2010 record of indie rock played with energy and enthusiasm, a welcome trait of the recent rock ’n’ roll coming out of the Crescent City.
Rotary Downs has a CD-release party at One Eyed Jacks on Mar. 5.