An exceptionally interesting year is nearing its end and at this point it’s probably safe to say the best thing that could happen to us is a full reboot and restart from scratch in 2017. I will presumably devote a dedicated blogpost fairly soon trying to sum up some of 2016’s personally most interesting artistic bits and pieces (watch this space…), but before that I couldn’t bid farewell to this kaleidoscopic and eclectic year without one last instalment of the award-winning ARM column, so very much appreciated by yours truly’s esteemed readers. Also, I have a sense that the title of the record I will be reviewing in this very blogpost – Bad Rabbits’ American Nightmare – kind of already hints at a pretty faithful depiction of one of the most relevant developments that took place over the last twelve months and beyond. Yet, as the nature of ARM chapters calls for, there will be no room for other than pure, condensed and distilled musical critique within the walls of this very webpage’s frame. First things first. Set priorities straight. Enjoy.
Bad Rabbits are a Boston, MA, based funk-soul-rock quintet that’s been around for quite some time now, namely forming back in 2007 but in reality active for much more than ten years considering early line-ups and name changes. They might not be as well-known in Europe as they appear to be in the USA, and I personally might not had stumbled upon them either had it not been for Taking Back Sunday taking them as opening act on a long tour a couple of years ago. And boy am I glad they did, as these guys really do kick asses and their live performances are a true spectacle in their own right. So far the band has published five different records (3 EPs and 2 LPs). Their latest 12-track release is indeed titled American Nightmare (see artwork below) and was made available for free (!) – but after all, come on, it’s 2016… – via their website and all other blah blah digital stores on 21st November. Fun fact, despite its gratuity the album is also for sale on iTunes Store so I decided to actually purchase it after having dowloaded it for free just because it’s me and I like to be awesome most of the times. All joking aside, make sure to support original great music with every means you have at disposal. If you really don’t want to buy records and just like to stream tracks for free, at least inject yourself with ODs of live shows and merch and and and. Remembers, a cup of coffee at Starbucks costs around £4.
The album is an impressively solid rock & roll release closing at about 46 minutes, proving that Bad Rabbits didn’t try to hold back so much and gave out as much as it made sense for them. In this regard, as the band itself later revealed over a tweet, the writing and recording process for American Nightmare took place in a much smaller, more intimate and modest context that however was able to bring inspiration and emotion back to the Boston group. Overall, the record swings between ambient/space rock atmospheres – always led by beautiful guitars and arrangements – and stripped down, raw rapping crossing funk, R&B and hard rock all in between. It’s by far one of the most intrinsically varied and articulated albums I’ve listened to this year, but in fact what strikes me as even more surprising is Bad Rabbits ability and skilfulness to create extremely catchy melodies throughout the tracklist. Take for example lead single “Original” and its angry, dirty, and in-your-face emotion, or for instance the landscape-y “Too Late”, or again the mid-album ballad “Flames”: all those choruses and recurring refrains just simply stick to you from almost the first listen and result very well placed. Try and see for yourself.
Yet the record doesn’t simply prove songwriting maturity in its overall melodic extent and accessibility but possibly more prominently through its themes and lyrics, ranging from acute self-awareness and exploration to recent socio-political frames. For instance, the chilling and breathtaking “Wwyd” at number eight on the tracklist heavily deals with street and police gun violence alongside bigger conversations about race and discrimination via a powerful, minimalistic rapping chant. Similarly delicate topics lead tracks such as the explicit and at times exaggerated opener “Stalker”, the hectic and frantic “Save Yourself” as well as curtain call self-motivational anthem “Push”, which by the way features the only guest spot on the album with brilliant rap bars Spnda. American Nightmare is clearly loaded with socio-political statements and pieces of protest, and whilst to some it might look like just another anti-establishment rock album at first glance, there is an undeniable depth to the final output which openly places the record alongside other massive mass awakening and system-rejector releases such as letlive.’s If I’m the Devil…
Another noteworthy attribute of this album is its ability to let tracks grown onto the listener and almost catapult them to each one’s personal favourite bucket off of it. That is, songs such as the legitimately weirdly synths-loaded “Game of Chess” or the rather hysterical and messy “The Wire” seem to possess this rare capability of shaping themselves into radically enjoyable sonic frames completely revolting initial impressions, at least as far as I was concerned. In fact, this dynamic affected me to the extent that I currently consider “The Wire” the best cut off the whole record (I know this is subject to change and always a dangerous statement, yet true to this moment in time). The above is not to say that American Nightmare doesn’t have its weaknesses too, not at all. Songs like the too obvious “The Cloud” at number three or the slow, stripped down semi-acoustic (and semi-boring…) number “My Song” do in fact represent the lowest points on this album, however legitimately acceptable and by no means affecting the overall positive and enthusiastic judgement of this record.
All in all, Bad Rabbits have put out an extremely relevant, thought-through and melodically beautiful record that in so many ways could aim at representing a lot of that’s happened during this ever-changing and ever-surprising year. This is true also for the lessons that should be learned and the main takeaways after listening to it: above all it’s a record distilling virtues of hope, sacrifice and self-growth. Or, as Bad Rabbits put it themselves in closing track “Push”: “Just push yourself, no matter if you go through hell“. What better phrasing to wrap up 2016?
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.
2016, Bad Records