Rollerball: Trail of Butter Yeti
When Your Ears Need Their Asses KickedBy Amandeep Loomba
Rollerball’s latest release, Trail of the Butter Yeti, includes liner notes with only a poem as content -- no lyrics and certainly no publicity photos of the band. The poem, like the album, is a series of frozen images and emotions, drawn out to convey atmosphere, though not necessarily a complete idea. The album brings to the listener a set of soundscapes. Some of these are pleasing and soothing, while others are unsettling and capable of turning the listener into a paranoid lunatic.
Experimentalism of the sort that Rollerball brings to music is a fine way to give listeners a firm kick in the ass. I’m not just talking about those good music consumers who buy the latest Radiohead album and say, “Hey, this doesn’t sound like ‘Creep.’” Those folks need an actual kick in the ass. This album is for anyone willing to strap on some headphones late at night and give something fantastic and new a try.
In a fashion not dissimilar to Radiohead, Rollerball is looking to hop inside your head and poke all its softest spots. In both cases, the groups are finding novel ways to integrate electronic samples, drumming, and synthesis in with acoustic instrumentation.
While Radiohead’s Amnesiac may seem like a bit of dabbling pretension for a well-established rock group, Rollerball is a group that has made it’s career in experimentalism. It’s the kind of music you could never put on in your car when friends need a ride, because they will likely not hesitate to jump from a moving vehicle when you refuse to change the CD (you stubborn prick).
Well, maybe Trail of the Butter Yeti isn’t such a hard listen. In fact, put on a track like “Lon Chaney” and you’ll easily fall into a jilted groove along with the band. A groove that will, of course, be interrupted by the ominous and eerie female vocal harmonies. It’s as if Stereolab hooked up with Kruder and Dorfmeister to put out space-rock albums, with access to library of samples from fusion-era Miles Davis and a small suitcase of choice narcotics.
From “Lon Chaney,” it’s not too much of a stretch to bob your head right over to the next track, “Butter Fairy,” and listen to feedback, samples, and miscellaneous electronics spiral outward toward some incredibly tripped-out zone over a dark dub soundscape. To be fair, one should call this album a collection of eleven soundscapes, not songs. Rollerball isn’t playing tight musical tunes that get to the point or help you shake your ass. Instead, they’ve put together aural environments that will displace and disorient fragile psyches.
Throughout the course of the album, the tracks reference the poem in the liner notes and bring back some of the motifs brought out there. “Line of Perpetual Snow” has the iciest vocals imaginable. “Earth 2 Wood” drops electronic modulations in favor of organic instrumentation (piano, accordion, sax, drums, and bass in a “post-cabaret atmospheric orchestra”) and has some stunningly creepy male/female harmonies. “White Death,” well, “White Death” won’t be on anyone’s morning wake-up play list.
In short, you need to listen to this album. You need to listen to this album before Rollerball, the sure-to-be ghastly remake of a ridiculous 1975 film, hits theaters this summer. You need to listen to this album before you pick up your next pop album, where the rhythms and melodies stay well within their expected ranges. You need to listen to this album not only for a sonic ass-kicking, but for some genuine moments of sonic epiphany.