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Rangda - Formerly Extinct

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Artist: Rangda

Album: Formerly Extinct

Label: Drag City

Review date: Oct. 10, 2012

Listening to Formerly Extinct is a bit like visiting a zoo to see the big cats pace back and forth behind the glass. Ben Chasny, Chris Corsano and Richard Bishop aren’t engaging in repetitive, stereotypic behavior, of course, but there is something about Rangda’s second album that calls to mind exotic animals living in captivity. The potential for wildness is there, though it only peeks out occasionally from the highly controlled environment.

Rangda’s debut, False Flag, began with the raging, ragged “Waldorf Hysteria,” which served notice that even though this would be a rock record, it would proceed with a scorched earth ethos. Formerly Extinct takes a more measured approach, and tempers nearly all of its predecessor’s extremes: there’s nothing as incendiary as “Serrated Edges,” no track as sprawling as the free range “Plain of Jars,” and little that can match “Sarcophagi” in terms of stripped-down, world weary expression. Chasny, Corsano and Bishop have cleaned up their act, replacing searing barnburners and loosely wrangled slow numbers with mathy precision. This time, it feels more about technique than temperament.

Tracks like “Plugged Nickel” and “Night Porter” proceed like clockwork, compartmentalizing their rough edges into discrete, distorted guitar solos. The genre-hoppers, dappled with splashes of Sun City Girls flair, are not without charm, but do little to excite these nerve endings. The album’s snarl, when it surfaces, seems deadened, and it’s only partially due to the album’s production. This isn’t a case of these three suddenly forgetting what it is they do, more a change in priorities. The polite, pastoral “Goodbye Mr. Gentry” wouldn’t have fit well on False Flag, and the debut’s “Fist Family” would be far too much ruckus to slot into the middle of Formerly Extinct.

The funny thing is, even though I can’t seem to let go of the comparisons between this disc and the first one, I wasn’t too wild about False Flag when it came out. It seemed to me a likeable enough album, but somehow disappointing, given who was involved, and Formerly Extinct makes even less use of the firepower on hand. It’s as if the team’s best bats are left on the bench; what the self-imposed restraint adds in compositional complexity, it subtracts in energy and intensity. Hearing Corsano play so conservatively across the majority of the disc is especially frustrating: For one of the best improvisational drummers around, the impressively pinpoint dexterity displayed across Formerly Extinct feels like the proving of a point that never needed validation.

The last Rangda album was a quickly collected affair; this time they’ve had a chance to workshop material before entering the studio. As a result, Formerly Extinct is a little over-cooked, and the album would have benefitted from being left a little more raw at its core.

By Adam Strohm

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