RNDM (pronounced “Random”) truly lives up to its name as far as origin is concerned, but their music is an organized, well-packed punch to pop-rock today. Ament and Stuverud collaborated for late-90s super band pursuit Three Fish, and Arthur landed an opening spot for the band. After staying in touch for years, Arthur cemented the friendship with a slot at last year’s PJ20, which resulted in Ament’s invitation for a jam session, spawning a slew of songs to be slammed on RNDM’s album.
Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, prolific, indie-leaning singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur and Seattle punk-rock fixture drummer Richard Stuverud combine their rich musical inclinations to create Acts, RNDM’s stellar debut album. Composed in a whirlwind four-day recording session, Acts is an undeniably eclectic—and still cohesive—body of work reflecting each member’s unique musical point-of-view. Palpable group chemistry discounts any suspect of the band’s recent formation, as if they’ve been churning out alt-rock gems together for years.
Arthur’s vocally focused compositions are rife throughout the album, and his position at lead vocals allows his aural landscapes to bloom throughout the album. Ament’s jam-packed bass lines and relentless approach lends an edge to the music and Stuverud’s almost-lyrical drumming complements Arthur’s silver-throated delivery.
The album opens with the melodic chopping of the intro to “Modern Times” and Arthur’s inimitable upbeat drone easily harkens back to his work with the Lonely Astronauts. Arthur’s singsong drone dances over the pedal-pounding riff while Stuverud‘s steady drumming and liberal fuzz-guitar wallops, the song gains traction where the folk lean would have fallen flat. Heavily layered vocals add dimension and are consistent with Arthur’s penchant for intricacy.
Charming acoustic hook of “The Disappearing Ones” and Arthur’s purposely fumbling verses lend a charmingly sloppy tilt to an otherwise unsettlingly polished folk-rock number. An echoing chorus and heavy cymbal thrash push the song to more assertive territory amidst a clichéd barrage of “yeah yeah yeah’s” clutter the bridge. Arthur flexes his artistic muscle as he coaxes Ament’s powerful bass lines into more pensive veins.
“Walking Through New York” could have easily wedged itself into Arthur’s darkly romantic 2004 masterpiece Our Shadows Will Remain, with macabre guitar trills and wrenching lyrical poetry. Arthur’s artistic input is most evident on the album’s middle-marker; the densely layered, macabre groove complements layers of Arthur’s hurt falsetto. One of the most introspective songs featured on Acts, RNDM shows that they can jab at raw nerves without aggravating open wounds or tripping through platitudes.
The emotional tenderness is quickly abandoned in favor of alt-rock thumpers like “Look Out!,” which bears considerable aural weight of heavy wah’s and pedal-pounced flourishes. Sparse lyrics give the seasoned trio ample time to flaunt their musical chops while exercising some appreciated restraint.
The album caps with “Cherries in the Snow,” a campfire hymn featuring harmonica and tight acoustic guitar working, and wraps Acts on a wistful note. The opening lyric, “did I thank you for coming here to visit me,” seems like an offhand thank you to listeners who stuck around for the 12-track quickie out of both intrigue and fandom; but there are no thanks needed when an album of this musical fortitude is at hand.
Alternating between quick and dirty punk inclinations, elastic funk grooves, romantic folk twang, and alt-rock forcefulness, RNDM has proven themselves as one of the year’s most unclassifiable bands. While this lack of would normally signal directionless, RNDM embraces their opposing musical backgrounds to form an inimitable brew of modern-age rock. Not an album that can be sliced and diced into neatly packed singles but more of a cohesive full-bodied work standalone, Acts signals the birth of one of rock’s saving graces in the form of three divergent musical personalities meeting in one place long enough to churn out a thoughtful musical chronicle.
RNDM – Acts tracklist:
- “Modern Times”
- “The Disappearing Ones”
- “What You Can’t Control”
- “Hollow Girl”
- “Walking Through New York”
- “Look Out!”
- “New Tracks”
- “Throw You To The Pack”
- “Letting Go Of Will”
- “Cherries In The Snow”