The Royal Arctic Institute ~ From Catnap to Coma

Is post-rock meant to be this relaxing?  According to The Royal Arctic Institute, this isn’t post-rock, it’s “post-everything.”  The album encompasses lounge, jazz (regular and dark) and even ambience.  The Jersey quintet has chosen their moniker and album title well, as From Catnap to Coma is perfect music for the sluggish time between the holidays and spring, amplified in a pandemic year.  If one were to paint a post-rock spectrum, this cassette would land midway between classic Low and Do Make Say Think.

The quintet has an instinctive interplay, borne of decades of experience in bands such as Townes Van Zandt and Bee and Flower.  At times, the playing is so fluid that it seems improvised.  The sanguine nature of the set is another selling point; the timbre seems to say, “it’s all right, the winter is already passing, it’s going to be okay.”  For those engulfed in a literal or spiritual winter, such empathy is welcome.  There’s even a taste of summer in Mobius-inspired surf rock single “Shore Leave on Pharagonesia,” accompanied by a charmingly low budget video, while the xylophone of “First of the Eight” sings of spring.

When the band shares that the album was recorded in “the historic Neumann Leather Factory in Hoboken, New Jersey,” they may be selling the appeal of the venue short.  According to Jennifer Tribucka’s piece, What’s Inside the {Mysterious} Neumann Building?, we learn that the quarter-million square foot location is home to an electric spectrum of artists and short-term studios.  From the outside, the hulking building may seem dilapidated or even abandoned, while inside it teems with life: much as the world beneath winter, or the creative seeds that sprout during the hardest times.  The Neumann Building is also a stand-in for the imposing headquarters of Philip Pullman’s Royal Arctic Institute, as described in His Dark Materials: a place where intrepid explorers could peruse rare books (“Ghosts of the Great Library”) and antiquities, akin to Neumann’s modern use.

Closing title “Anosmia Suite” calls the listener back to the current age; anosmia means loss of smell, and in the U.K. is pronounced with a long o, just like nose.  This lingering COVID effect has plagued many over the past two years.  The Royal Arctic Institute recognizes such distress, and addresses it with calming tones.  (Richard Allen)

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