July 20th, 2009 | Album reviews

alessa kreger

Download: Rainbow Arabia “Haunted Hall”


(from Kabukimono out now on Manimal)

Let’s visit Rainbow Arabia’s daydream. Drink from a coconut on a sandy Caribbean beach before diving into emerald waters. Emerge pruny from the swim and the shore has transformed into a tangle of mangroves in Central Africa. Manatees float along calm rivers while mona monkeys swing from tangled branches. Suddenly the lagoon dries up, replaced by wind-blown Middle Eastern desert. Rainbows drape the sky, but there’s not a drop of water to be felt. And in 25.4 minutes, Kabukimono ends.

On the follow-up release to last year’s The Basta EP, Rainbow Arabia goes way beyond—themselves, their influences, the music they’ve put to record so far. The band obviously respects the experimental, but their balance of post-punk with world music styles sets them apart from the rest of the Manimal roster and at its best elevates the duo above other L.A. bands doing something self-consciously “different.” Here it’s an exercise in escapism—a band seeking adventure in exotic landscapes. Danny and Tiffany Preston blend club beats and dance rhythms gleaned from America to Africa, sliding continents under each other like a gambler shuffling cards. Yet no matter where they go this time, an island atmosphere persists—as if the conversation keeps coming up: “What if we opened the dancehall door and let in the…?” (Cobras, hippos, pandas, dolphins, aliens…)

Tiffany Preston’s unspecified accent rolls in as cute as Betty Boop—if Betty Boop took more direction from A Certain Ratio or Joy Division, and pinched guitar notes from Television’s Richard Lloyd. Her guitar melodies rise and fall in simple waves, splashing against the rhythms from Danny’s keyboards. Last year, Danny used Casios imported from the Middle East to manipulate African styles and microtonal scales. This time around, he’s stamped his passport across the Caribbean. Beat-cuddling production work by Pit Er Pat’s Butchy Fuego (whose handiwork we know from Hecuba and These Are Powers albums) minimizes the miles between songs, and even Tiffany’s gentle gun-toting talk (“Harlem Sunrise”) suggests a possibility of escape. The collisions become a statement of purpose: music as weapon against confines or even silence.

On this journey through hot climates, Rainbow Arabia first takes us on “Holiday In Congo.” We don machetes and rifles, climb aboard our trusty elephants and trudge through wet heavy jungle. (The second verse goes, “All my days are left undid, all my days are numbered, all my days are yesterday and I say no no no”). The desert unfolds on “Haunted Hall,” sneaking into your ears along a Middle Eastern plateau. While you’re distracted watching a belly-dancing mirage, Rainbow Arabia deploys lessons learned from Sublime Frequencies and spooky dub embellishes. “Kabukimono” ventures even farther east—Tiffany is singing in English, I think, as a breakbeat sidles against her guitar and oncoming drumroll. As each song carries over the experience of the last one, the influences blur: here’s early Factory Records, there’s Congotronics and here’s Danny’s old band Future Pigeon, too.

Tiffany’s guitar chimes in whenever we lose our bearings, to help ground us—somewhere between here and who knows where? The Western dance beats often remain in the background, such as the emphatic bass line lingering in soft focus on “Harlem Sunrise,” while we’re more involved with a calypso drum at the forefront. “I Know I See I Love I Go” follows, which somehow throws all the ingredients together and shoots them into the middle of an intergalactic space battle during the last minute of the song: opening yelp to bongos and tambourine and burping bass and finally lasers firing into the song’s underpinnings, aimed carefully to snap tethers from a distance.

Tagged on the end of this mini-album are remixes of “Omar K” and “Let Them Dance” from The Basta. On “Omar K,” Ghosts on Tape applies the distorted bass thickly, running it around like a whale blowing bubbles. While playing Brenmar’s (aka Bill Salas from These Are Powers) sped-up “Let Them Dance” remix outside on my balcony, all the stray cats in the neighborhood gathered on a fence down below and stared at me, their ears twitching and tails flicking. Finally, six cats gathered to heed whatever command might have come next, but the record stopped. I’d been wanting to venture to outer limits, but something about Rainbow Arabia made them want in.

—Daiana Feuer