Susan Luzzaro 4:30 p.m., Dec. 11
Sounding as free-spirited as Brian Wilson and as tight as anything from the Tom Tom Club, Animal Feelings — the latest from Rafter Roberts — comes off like a white guy’s take on Parliament-Funkadelic, a jazz band that could rock hard and still remain true to the funk. Animal Feelings is indeed funky, but it’s kind of a shorthand version of funk. Where Parliament founder George Clinton would layer on a glaze of rich, thumpy bottom end and fill every nook and cranny with odd noises and psychedelic guitars, Roberts goes lean and spare — it is what he leaves out that adds the most value. The space between the beats, the silence, is what gives the record its texture.
Rafter Roberts was born near San Francisco, lived in New York for a while, and eventually settled in San Diego, where he opened a recording studio with a partner. It was the right time and place to be here. Notable bands such as Gogogo Airheart, the Black Heart Procession, Rocket from the Crypt, and Kill Me Tomorrow all logged time in Roberts’s studio. He recorded and produced an astonishing number of local bands (and some jingles for commercials, too) before beginning work on his own stuff.
Roberts’s earlier music seems more about serious art-punk, but maybe that was just a sign of the times. Animal Feelings stands out as being well-crafted amusement, nothing more, nothing less. By definition, a hipster’s dance record. Not to overthink this, but sometimes being original pays off, and this is one of those times.
With his new offering, Rafter Roberts' history and influences, his dreams and ambition, and his love for love and life, all come together as a beat-busting ride into the inner-core of pop and R & B music.
Where previous Rafter releases trafficked in feedback and noise-informed experimentation while focusing on places of longing, recovery, sadness and new romance, this new album struts cleanly from one hit to the next, speakers blowing, bodies moving, club lights flashing. Though, don’t get us wrong, he's definitely still obsessed with death and contradiction.
The album hits on all cylinders, an exhilarating pop free-for-all that recalls Nintendo composer Koji Kondo leading a fantasy camp super-jam with Cody Chesnutt, Justin Timberlake, and the Tom Tom Club. Full of FM-ready pop gems playfully sabotaged by Rafter’s fearless mouth, opening track, “No F**king Around,” is set to a grooving, silky R & B stomp straight out of Rihanna or D’angelo’s cookbook, which leads to the hand-clap, clutter-free beauty of “Fruit” where Rafter sings about his recent courtship with his new wife.
“Feels Good” is a slow, sexy, near-falsetto jam anchored by a minimalist Jackson 5 bassline, and is immediately followed by the house-party vibes of the title track. With "Never Gonna Die,” Rafter dials up a Clash-flavored pep talk about accepting death and celebrating love, while the record ends on a buoyant, spirited, shaker-heavy note with “Beauty, Beauty.”
01. No F**king Around
02. A Frame
03. Timeless Form
05. Feels Good
06. Animal Feelings
08. Never Gonna Die
09. Only You
10. Love Makes You Happy
11. Beauty Beauty