On their latest album Rare Americans 2, Canadian alternative band Rare Americans‘ rowdy and rambunctious songs blend up punk, rap and power pop with a musical theater panache. The duo’s unique style and musicianship eschews traditional song structures in ways that keep the lengthy seventeen-song album lively and unpredictable, while lyrically delving into a number of weighty subjects through unique narratives lenses.
It must be said that Rare Americans put just as much time and energy into their high-octane, animated videos to visualize the stories behind their songs as they do in creating these complex and biting tunes. The aesthetic of these videos has become as much a part of the duo as their in-your-face sound. The off-kilter energy of the album starts on the opener “Brittle Bones Nicky”, where a sample of church bells and a choir divulge into a bouncy, bass-driven track. While the vocals are delivered in a caustic rap cadence, the large gang chorus bursts with pop-punk playfulness. Though the story of the Nicky character dominates the verses, the group keeps things universally relatable with shout-along lines like “you’re not gonna push me around. You can’t get me down down down”.
While often receiving comparisons to modern alternative acts like Twenty One Pilots, there’s also a Panic! at the Disco-style bombastic theatricality to a number of the group’s tracks. “Milk Man”‘s snappy, R&B groove and shady characters make for a darker cabaret-punk hybrid, while the explosive “Hullabaloo” bursts with bawdy bravado while taking a swipe at corporate culture. These tracks and others like the slinky, unnerving “Knives, Guns & Bed” play loose with structure, throwing in scuzzy guitar lines and spoken-word lyrics before switching over to hard-hitting punk wails and metal-style breakdowns, while always maintaining a sturdy cohesion..
While these more showy tracks are what the band has used as their calling cards, they also prove here they are just as good at writing more subtle and emotional pieces. The heavier “Gas Mask” asks “Where am I going to be 10 years from now”, addressing issues of escaping depression and setting the atmosphere with a moodier rap beat, before ending with a quick acoustic shanty. Then there’s the subdued “Berlin”, with its great, woozy guitar interplay. And one can feel the loss and grief in “Without You Around”.
Things are brighter during the second third of the album, with “Up, Up & Away”‘s airy, piano-accompanied alt pop sound, and the catchy ska-pop of “9 Times out of 10”. The cheeky “Adults or Kids bristles with fun folk-punk spirit, and is in close contention with the guitar-driven power popper “Two Lives” for being my favorite song on the album.
As said earlier, it’s hard to separate the band’s music from the incredible animated worlds they’ve created to accompany each track. Working with Toronto studio Solis Animation, the band is creating videos for each song on the album, which are all worth checking out for how they add further depth and context to the stories and lyrics behind the songs.
Rare Americans 2 is a sprawling work, and may test the patience of some listeners. It’s certainly not easy, candy-coated listening, but for those looking for music that prefers to jar than placate fans, this is an album to hear. It’s out on March 5th, and you can stream the pre-released tracks here!