- The Los Angeles duo Rainbow Arabia first few EPs were defiantly lo-fi electronic pop defined by its Eastern and African influences. It was a sound that didn't always exceed the sum of its parts, but the moments where vocalist Tiffany Preston's banshee shrieks and husband Matthew Preston's electronic noises succeeded, it sounded like a mutant Gang Gang Dance with all the hinges loosened. Their debut album sees them tightening up their songcraft just a little bit, while leaving the dingy tape rot aesthetic mostly intact.
Needless to say, it certainly doesn't sound like your typical Kompakt record. The racket that the two Prestons make here seems unavoidably influenced by the types of archival releases that seem to flow forth endlessly from labels like Finders Keepers, Sublime Frequencies and Honest Jons. The album's most obvious identifying feature is Preston's voice, which jumps from naive to tender to guttural to alien remarkably quickly. Her versatility serves the album well, but she also struggles for an identity. On irrepressibly catchy first single "Without You," she sounds like a lost Regine Chassagne, and on "Blind" she sounds so much like Karin Dreijer Andersson that I searched the press release to make sure there were no Fever Ray/Knife guest spots I had missed.
Rainbow Arabia's toolbox remains largely the same as it has in the past: African guitars, insistent mallets, old analogue synths and cheap keyboards, all glossed over with a thick layer of reverb. Too often, though, the chanting sounds like pure gimmickry: "Nothin' Gonna Be Undone" and "Jungle Bear" are undone by unbearably cutesy, fake ethnography. It's no secret that the surface-level happy-go-lucky nature of West African music has been a potent influence on indie rock, but it's just as superficial here as it is on any number of other generic bands. Near-instrumental centrepiece "Papai" begins as a colourful synthwave take on their Orientalist wares before stumbling into a dramatic breakdown with terrifying exhortations from Preston. It's clear that Arabia are at their best with more exploratory songwriting; when they try to write pop songs, they just end up sounding too much like someone else.
As such, the album's second half is considerably stronger. "Mechanical" blankets itself in lush church organ haze as Preston recants an oddly sexual verse, unsettling in her childlike delivery, and "This Life Is Practice" crafts makeshift Moroder disco out of high-flying synths and chunky arpeggios. But the band make their greatest gesture towards their new German hosts with the six-minute closer "Sequenced," its resonant thump lifting off the ground and gliding forward into flashing strobelight abandon, punctuated by searing guitars and the most convincing and virtuosic vocal from Preston on the whole disc. It seems like even with the long hiatus, Rainbow Arabia are still trawling the desert in search of their sound, but they've got a good potential future with Kompakt to nurture their most promising characteristics.
01. Boys and Diamonds
02. Without You
04. Nothin Gonna Be Undone
06. Jungle Bear
09. This Life is Practice