The Rats and People | City of Passersby (s/r)

Sayles and Co. have obviously never heard of the phrase "verse, chorus, verse, chorus." Rarely in their songs do parts repeat more than once.




Over the past year or so, The Rats and People have been building a name for themselves the old-fashioned way: making flyers, playing countless numbers of shows each month, and having a demo CD available at almost every show. (Getting named best new band by the Riverfront Times in 2006 doesn't hurt one bit, either.) Naturally, the next step is to record an album. And boy oh boy, what a step they took.

"Well the rains have gotten weird/ like they do this time each year," are the first words Brien Sayles sings on the album, City of Passersby. At first, the listener might be a little distraught due to the distinct, cutting and mostly raw vocals of Sayles, but he makes up for any purposely off-key notes with superb, extravagant lyrics. Each song is a story, and each story is told with enthusiasm that most writers would sell their souls for. But, soul intact, Sayles won't be looking for Satan anytime soon.

And that's the just the start on this album. The main star is the music. Sayles and Co. have obviously never heard of the phrase "verse, chorus, verse, chorus." Rarely in their songs do parts repeat more than once. Each song seams to pick up the pace when the lyrics do, as well. Midway through "The Captain," just when you thought it couldn't get any crazier, a drum march changes moods just as fast as the lyrics do: "Clouds form, just as they dissipate/ a blood covered dinner plate/ a fingerless glove/ and the Zephyrus choking on a bone." Just as abruptly the song picks up yet again, ending on a high-paced combustion of drums, accordion, fiddle, guitar, bass, trumpet and piano.

The one track that sticks out the most is "Ohio." Sung by fiddle player Beth Dill, "Ohio" is much more than a melancholy song about going home; it's more of a song that tells you, I want to go here.

This is what I expect, and this is what I'm getting: "Through my youth I dined on giant flowers/ I grew so meek and holy." And as Dill bares it all with her vocal chords, the band keeps it simple, melodic, and just plain beautiful. A big surprise in the song is the backing vocals by Matt Pace. Pace's voice soars right next to Dill's, making the song a definitive track for this band.

Another thing you will notice about City of Passersby is the rhythm section. With the steady bass playing by Gary Moore and the masterful drums by Rob Laptap, they both keep the songs sharp, and in control.

Laptap has a style all his own, keeping things to a minimum when needed, and banging the drums with so much force you feel bad for the person recording the album (who happens to be Gary Moore). Another great combination is the fiddle, trumpet and accordion. In almost every song, each of these instruments seems to play right off each other. Going back and forth on notes like some sort of folk-off, they keep the songs on pace, and full of energy. Jeremy Quinn keeps his accordion playing just as fast as Dill does the fiddle, which is a triumph in itself. And the mixing on the album makes every instrument cut right through, so every note is heard, and every song is crisp, clean and exuberant.

The best track on the album, hands down, is its closer, "Bodies in Boxes." Starting off with only guitars, Sayles and Dill sing side by side from the start to the finish. Together, their voices make every word cut into you like a knife. And the last few lines on the album may be the best lines Sayles has ever written. "And I bowed my head and sorrowfully met the eyes of the Sovereign flames/ ‘Forgive my haste,' I begged/ He just inclined his head/ ‘You've met me right on time/ this is the end,'" he sings, giving a proud, but dreadful signoff. And then the song ends with a full band, and Sayles and Dill singing bright and joyously.

Every track on this album is different from the last one. Rats and People keep their energy throughout the entire thing. It slows down at the perfect time, and it picks up at the perfect time. Because of the brilliance in each song, you almost feel bad skipping to a certain track. Rats and People have made the best local record to come out this year so far. And with their hard-working, eye-on-the-prize ethics, I don't expect them to be slowing down anytime soon. A+ | Brian Potts

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