'Again' Review: Luke Rathborne blends punk rock & jangle pop to express his raw, cathartic, emotional upheavals
Rathborne seems to have effectively exorcised the demons plaguing his relationships with the outside world and has emerged out the other side feeling content and fulfilled
The New York-based singer-songwriter Luke Rathborne has been arresting the hearts of millions of listeners for over a decade now with his sparkling brand of gritty indie pop-rock, channeling the best of Elliot Smith and Ty Segall. The Maine native secretly recorded his debut album 'After Dark' (2007) when he was only 17, sneaking into a recording booth at night while pretending to host a local college radio show.
He was soon picked up by the labels Dilettante and Speak N' Spell Records, releasing a two-disc EP, 'Dog Years/I Can Be One' in 2011. The double-sided EP featured two different sides of the multi-faceted musician, who has dabbled in everything from punk and garage rock to new wave and indie-folk thus far. On the strength of this effort, he was personally invited to appear on BBC Radio 6 Music courtesy of DJ Lauren Laverne.
From there, his star just kept rising - he has opened for popular acts like The Strokes and Travis, and released his second album 'SOFT' in 2013, via his own independent label True Believer. He now has over 12 million streams on Spotify alone and has embarked on several North American tours.
Intriguingly enough, it was an ill-fated tour outing that caused Rathborne to have an epiphany just before recording his third album, 'Again', which drops on May 15. As Rathbone explains, it all started when his credit card was declined and the fiercely independent touring musician had to struggle to travel from gig to gig without a rental car. “You can rent one with a plane ticket if you have a debit card, so I made a fake plane ticket to get a car. The guy at the rental car place found out it was fake and made me return the car, so I had to fly to DC for a show. The rest of the tour, I found out a way to use a Greyhound or Uber to get to shows," he revealed.
As he hopped around from gig to gig, Rathborne was in for a surprise in Savannah, Georgia. The host of the place where he was crashing for the night gifted him a batch of magic mushrooms. “I was wandering around spooky Savannah texting my brother if he could get me an Uber,” Luke recalls, “and when I got to the airport I puked. It finally hit home that what I wanted out of music was to connect with people, not fulfill some sort of tragic arc. That experience sealed the deal for getting burnt out on touring. I asked myself, ‘What the fuck am I doing with my life?'”
So, as he put this new album together, Rathborne grappled with his new clarity of purpose as a musician. "I could work at a cell phone store, but why would I have this secret thing I can do and not do it?” he questioned. “At a certain point I have to embrace what I’ve built myself to do. You can come up with reasons for not doing anything, but reasons are excuses.” He also had some choice words for the machine that we all find ourselves a part of - “You’re so blown away by living the reality of what the industry entails for your life that you become frozen,” he admitted. “It takes resolve not to submit to that. In a perfect world, your art addresses it viscerally, but at this point for me, just the act of following through is addressing it.”
The resulting songs on 'Again' accordingly seem to be that much more candid and vulnerable, as Rathborne revels in his creative freedom and musical choices.
The opening track 'Tell Me Not To Go' is a smooth guitar pop number that details the dark moods of a girl called Carolina, and how he wants to see her dance again. "When you get sad I want to know when you go" croons Rathborne. The song explodes into a flurry of furiously strummed guitars as he chants "When she tells you not to go," bringing the song to an intense climax.
'Losing It' brings synth-pop elements and a groovy bass to the party, as the song takes on a dreamy hue, courtesy of Rathborne's slick falsetto that somehow slots into a Bee Gees register effortlessly. In a nod to the previous track, the song tackles losing one's mind over relationship issues. "I'm telling you, it's you or me," says Rathborne in this Tame Impala-esque tune.
'Burning' returns to jangly guitar pop as Rathborne poses a series of questions to ponder as his love fizzles and crashes down in flames. "That's my house burning to the ground / That's my family inside / That's my love, you can figure out / That's the burning of the sun."
'Be The One' features more chiming guitars as Rathborne declares via processed vocals - 'I was lost / Beat up by the cold / There was nothing left to believe in." He then cajoles his lover in the hooky chorus, "If you could be the one / You know it's not much fun" as the song (and album) veers into melancholy territory.
'Lethal' is a rather more rockier affair, as Rathborne cranks up the distortion and pleads with his lover - "Why don't you tell me one way, baby / It seems like you're not even there." The song concludes that their relationship is doomed to fail, amid squalling guitars - "It seems just like we're lethal, baby / Like we're losing our own choice," before concluding "Why do you comfort me when you don't even care?"
'Rainforest Song' veers into chugging garage rock territory as he explores the pieces of a shattered relationship - "Feelings I never felt before / Reeling after what you said / Anywhere you go, it must be easier / You may know," before howling in misery at the end of the song, "It never reached the end / It's on and on, my friend / And on and on and on again."
'Losing You' is a compact piece of radio-friendly indie rock, as Rathborne contemplates a breakup and exclaims, "Losing you is all I gotta do / I'm so excited I don't know what to do / Yeah, baby, when you don't feel right / 'Cause losing you would make me feel all right."
'Rumble II' is a musical nod to Link Wray's 'Rumble', echoing the iconic tremolo-heavy intro of the pioneering 1958 classic as he remarks on the tremors in his rocky relationship - "In your car / We go fast / You got me moving, baby / But I can't last... Images that complicate / You know there ain't no way / Don't you tell me you look great / Now that we're alone."
The closing track and album standout 'Ordinary Woes' is a fast-paced piece of punk rock that is complemented by a trippy music video painstakingly animated by Rathborne himself. The lyrics are straightforward and driven just like the song, talking about the disaffection of two empty people falling in and out of love. "I like it when you baby, tell me how to be / You caught in my body, never have to choose / Don't like you sentimental, ain't no way to see / I want to get you one way, always have to do / Ordinary woes."
All in all, 'Again' is a shiny, cathartic piece of indie guitar rock, with healthy dollops of new wave and punk elements. Rathborne seems to have effectively exorcised the inner demons plaguing his relationships with the outside world and has emerged out the other side feeling decidedly more content and fulfilled. "I’m happier with this record than the last one. I wanted to let the past few years talk through me the best I could. The end result was more cohesive. It finally felt like me," a satisfied Rathborne concluded.