In 1993, a band from Louisville, Kentucky called Rodan put together their first demo tape called Aviary. It was an unsettled, scraping, noisy, brutal affair, but also intelligent and earnestly ambitious for a first album. As of this writeup, audio exists of this rare prototype, but it is notably hard to find and seems to only physically exist in cassette tape format.
All of the songs from Aviary would be either re-recorded or remastered, and re-released (eventually). At the end of 1993 two of the songs, "Milk & Melancholy" and "Exoskeleton" would be released as a 2-track EP called How the Winter Was Passed. Two other songs, "Darjeeling" and "Tron" would be released on the 2013 compilation album Fifteen Quiet Years (as well as Milk & Melancholy, Exoskeleton, and remasters of the notably different Aviary versions of "Shiner" and "Tooth Fairy" (sic)).
Six specific Aviary songs were chosen to be re-recorded by the band and released as their only full length LP and early math rock masterpiece, cementing Rodan's place in Louisville's weird legacy and in underground Alternative Rock's highest esteem: Rusty. The tracks were re-recorded in the fall of 1993 and the album was released the following Spring.
The most famous and perhaps most influential of all of Rusty's non-band member personnel is engineer Bob Weston, whose nickname inspired the album title. This is Bob Weston from Louisville, of Shellac, not to be confused with the Fleetwood Mac guitarist. Brian McMahan of Slint is also given engineering credits on the album. The only listed producer on the album aside from the band itself is "Jake Lowenstein," who I can only assume to be Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh and The Fiery Furnaces.
Rusty's voice and spirit is beautiful, but not at all pretty. It features a wide breath of extremes in dynamics and emotional intensity, from the clean, soft, and slow instrumental passages to the grinding, jagged and aggressive rhythms and distortions. The vocal performances traverse from hushed spoken word, to deranged growling, to melodic song, to outright screaming, with all four of the band's core members contributing vocals. The structure of the songs feels like a train of patchwork, offering little to nothing in the way of chorus, reprise, motifs, or any discernable patterns the listener can latch onto. At times the album feels like being guided through a dream, at other times feels like being dragged through a nightmare. It's only a 6-track album that clocks in at a slightly-below-average-seeming 42 minutes in length, but it's a challenging listen for certain. The tracks are as follows:
Rusty begins with the song that was sequenced as the last track on Aviary: Bible Silver Corner. It's a consumable and politely dark instrumental track which can perhaps stand on its own better than any other song on the album. It's driven by reverbed arpeggios, guided by simple piano accompaniment, and given texture through wide, breathy, well-placed guitar distortion noise in the minor key passages. It resolves so well, and really feels like the most full, ponderous, clean, and best-organized track of the album. The addition of the piano, the cleaning up of the production value, and the grounding (consistency) of the tempo make this a much preferred version to the Aviary version, and is perhaps the greatest improvement of all the re-recordings.
All the illusion and comfort, all the impressions and all the expectations that were given from Corner are immediately shattered and cast into oblivion within the first few seconds of Shiner. Truly the album's energy track, the tempo on Shiner was ramped up several clicks for Rusty as compared to the Aviary demo, to the song's dramatic improvement. The vocals were also re-recorded from a more sludgy, monstrous Aviary version to a fast, nasty post-punk performance. The result is riveting, blistering, controlled but extreme. It's a candle that burns brightly and quickly, moving through the album's more proper, disenchanting introduction in a mere 2 minutes, 38 seconds to get to its centerpiece.
Centerpiece, masterpiece, train of thought, sheer impressionable titanic nightmare. The incomparable, unforgettable, The Everyday World of Bodies. The song takes some time both to literally listen to, and to piece together. In a near constant stream of polymeter and rough double-accent patterns (especially in the drumming), this song will challenge just about anyone for its intensity, for its unpredictability, and for its tantrum. I can only explain so much with words. Be weary of this one - it will keep you up at night.
Compared to Aviary, Tara Jane O'Neil was less involved on the vocals for Rusty. But Jungle Jim is confirmedly hers. Equally aggressive and even more jagged in its stop-and-go nature than Bodies, Jungle Jim features the best of the album's drumming. Its first half can seem like a frustrating trudge, but by the time the song finally gets to where it's going, it boasts a ferocity that carries so much inertia it can almost be called groovy.
There's not much to say about Gauge. To call it the worst song on the album isn't necessarily insulting, and I wouldn't call it a bad song, but there's a plaintitiveness about this compared to the other hard songs on the album that leaves something to be desired. Another song that bests the Aviary version though, mostly because of the ridiculous little aside at the song's climax on the demo version. You don't want to know.
The album ends pretty abruptly with Tooth-Fairy Retribution Manifesto, with an intro that's much improved from the Aviary tape. The cleanliness mixed with the disjunctive spoken word ends the album very uncertainly, and I can only imagine it would leave most listeners fumbling for an overall impression of the album. In general, the album ends more weakly and less memorably than how it begins, but this is still a good rehashing of a good song.
Rusty is not an album for the easily disturbed, nor is it an album for the undisturbed. It will not apologize, will not forgive, and, of course, it will not change. The only way to understand this music is the only way to understand any kind of music - active listening. But if you're open-minded about discord and rage mixed seamlessly with introspection and sparseness, this is an album that heavily rewards the listener for the time invested in it. In a word: amazing.
Rusty by Rodan, released April of 1994 on Quarterstick Records
01. Bible Silver Corner
03. The Everyday World of Bodies
04. Jungle Jim
06. Tooth-Fairy Retribution Manifesto