Review: Rodan – “The Hat Factory ’93”

If Rodan’s Rusty is the butterfly on its ripe-peach-hued cover, the newly released ’93 recordings are the budding chrysalis. And they are something to behold.

So, first, a little back-story is necessary.

In 1993, then just a year into the quartet’s existence, the young, early-20-nothing members of Louisville post-rock purveyors Rodan entered The Hat Factory studio in Baltimore and cut five songs to tape with Tony French. (French had previously recorded Jason Noble, the band’s guitarist, with Christian Frederickson at The Hat Factory in the earliest incarnations of Rachel’s.) The group released some of the material on a tour EP, dubbed Aviary, which has made the bootleg rounds ever since. It later re-recorded the material with a new drummer and engineer Bob Weston, and that became its 1994 debut, Rusty, named after the manned who helmed the production. The group disbanded shortly thereafter – and we are left with ever-brilliant post-Rodan output: June of 44, Shipping News, Sonora Pine, Retsin.

Rusty turned 25 this week and has aged remarkably well, more like whiskey, fine Kentucky bourbon perhaps, than red wine, its notes still packing a 80-proof wallop all these decades later. The “newly released” recordings, whose Bandcamp proceeds are going to the group Girls Rock Louisville, are even more bombastic than the recordings most are familiar with, capturing a rawness and edginess that, yes, while captured on Rusty, sometimes percolates there slightly below the surface of things.

Take “The Everyday World of Bodies,” perhaps the group’s greatest accomplishment as a quartet. It starts on The Hat Factory ‘93, after that familiar drum-roll lead-in, with loads of guitar squalor and a crunching backing-guitar attack, more a roar than the version on Rusty. It doesn’t shout; it barks. And it still, wonderfully, features all of the unwound complexity it displays on the Weston recordings.

John Weiss, who drums on this outing, sound less naturalistic in his approach to the kit here than does Kevin Coultas, who replaced him on Rusty. This is clear on a song like “Bodies,” though the slight differences in approach are illustrated to careful ears throughout. Weiss is more anchored to the hi-hat and the kick drum, to the arch of the timing, whereas Coultas followed closely (though not religiously) in the footsteps of Slint’s Britt Walford, who hit hard but displayed an incredible handle on volume control and naturalistic tonality. (Insert debate here on how or how much Rodan followed in the tracks of Spiderland.) Noble, who handles much of the vocal duties on “Bodies,” also sounds more unguarded, even, at times, menacing on the early ’93 recordings, spitting out the occasional “I am nothing” and “Everything changes” like a young man with someone on his mind.

The rest of the “new” EP is equally intoxicating. The new mix/master of “Exoskeleton,” which appeared on the comp. How The Winter Was Passed, is kind to its organic builds, its mountains and canyons. The beautific “Bible Silver Corner,” which opens this EP as well as it did Rusty, bears all of the marks of its wonderfully subtle grandeur – those waiting for the gradual, controlled hum of feedback over certain bridges will not be disappointed – but there’s an added fluidity here thanks to the fact that bassist Tara Jane O’Neil is cranked up a little bit more in the mix. “Jungle Jim” has never sounded punchier. “Gauge” unfurls with an alarming sense of abandon, and I love the heightened interplay of Noble’s and O’Neil’s vocal leads.

Plenty of Rodan fans thrilled at the release, shortly after Noble’s death from cancer, of Fifteen Quiet Years, essentially a collection of B-sides, live cuts and after-thoughts. Rightly so; that record was a long, long overdue postcard from a lover that penned their Dear John too soon. Today, REJOICE, Rodan is back and alive and kicking again, God bless them, and The Hat Factory ’93 is not mere evidence of post-rock wizardry; it’s a living document that shows how relevant this band continues to be to the arc of post-rock and math-rock. And, above it all, it still knocks you on your ass. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, April 5, 2019


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.