It’s so easy to forget how we got here sometimes. Anyone making a nominal attempt to keep even a foot in the zeitgeist of underground music knows what an unstable and treacherous terrain it is we traverse. For this reason, a band like Prince Rama is a godsend — a weathervane to show us, in no uncertain terms, exactly which way the wind blows. To point: you know that you are living through a truly unique musical moment when a band’s chief biographical selling point is the fact that the members met on a Hare Krishna commune in Florida. In musical epochs of the not-so-distant past (excepting hardcore), any one of these details (Krishna, commune, Florida) would have been more than enough to ensure a lifetime of negative traction for a young enterprising combo. So it speaks to our times that, far from detrimental, these kind of juicy background morsels are proving to be a marketing boon. Now, complete the image with photo of band posing in desert with bundle of sticks — and don’t forget to place a Tibetan prayer bowl on your keyboard stand (it’s practical) — and suddenly I’m feeling the need to purify my “listening space” with sage.
Hopefully this lends an appreciation for the full range of obstacles met with before even getting down to the trifling detail of listening to the music contained in Shadow Temple. Look, I’m not going to tell you it’s not what it looks like, baby, because it is. Tribal drumming? Check. Hippie chanting? Check. Reverb on everything? Check, check, check! More importantly though, is what this is not — derivative, ironic, half-baked babbling made by dilettantes. Full credit must be given for the headlong abandon with which these kids are throwing themselves into it. This is not the work of dabblers. This is full-immersion therapy created by humans dedicated to THE CAUSE. In fact, I’m fairly certain there are no words actually chanted or sung in English for the duration of the album — a fact I only noticed after hearing the album for at least the fifth time. This speaks directly to the transportive nature of the music here, and how effectively it works as a whole on its own terms. Of course, these terms are still roughly framed in a post-Animal Collective landscape of Gang Gang Dance and their ilk. Eastern melodic motifs, a token interest in electronic processing, trial separation from traditional song structure — all noble endeavors for any band facing the unenviable task of taking the recently normalized sound of the creative vanguard and attempting to, well, do something with it.
If the sound of new Brooklyn were all Prince Rama were working with, then all of my preconceptions and assumptions would have been sadly validated and this review would have been far easier to write. Intentionally or not though, the vibe here tends to conjure more of a ‘71 than ‘01 frame of references, working up a slightly discordant, cacophonous sound that brings to mind everything from the Kosmiche synth-klang of early Cluster to the Industrial scree of late Faust. There’s also a whiff of the dissonant, tribal brooding first broached by the early Rough Trade acts and their followers (Mass, Killing Joke, Savage Republic). Accordingly, most of the surface implications that these cosmic voyagers are just another group of blissed-out new-age dreamcatchers are dispelled straightaway — the vibe coming dark and heavy, catching a ride with the Valkyries. It’s a tribal sound system for sure, but one more suited to soundtracking a Mongol swarm or a Lord Of The Rings battle of Wagnerian proportions. Before deferring to the diminutive, the band went by the slightly more awkward handle of Prince Rama Of Ayodhya (rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?). Ayodhya, one of the most ancient Indian cities, was also said to be the birthplace of the Hindu god, Rama, and roughly translates to “unconquerable city,” a reference reflected in the brooding, liturgical war-chants brewed up here. Honestly, the first thing that sprung to mind was Angus Maclise’s Invasion Of Thunderbolt Pagoda, and he seems to be the closest spiritual precursor in terms of intensity, purity of vision, and just outright OTHER-ness. Yes, there may be Tuvan throat singing going on. But that may just be the prayer bowls talking.