Rafter Roberts can’t sit still. Over the course of a decade he‘s mixed, mastered, and produced for the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Castanets, The Fiery Furnaces, Rocket from the Crypt, Pinback, amongst many others. He makes up one half of the celebrated San Diego band Bunky and more recently has dropped four stellar solo albums and an EP. He’s also built his own recording studio and even finds time to write ad jingles. The shrinks out there might label it ADD, but that’s a far too negative and sterile explanation for the man’s prolific and consistently excellent creative output. From the more obtuse, lo-fi ramble of 10 Songs, Rafter’s solo work has been drifting ever closer to the radiant center of his own pop solar system, getting sweeter, more danceable, and more cohesive along the way. His career continues its crash course into pop-brilliance in 2010 with his most even-handed and song-centered full-length Animal Feelings, a satisfying swirl of sassy guitar cuts, catchy ramshackle percussion, smooth and soulful white-boy R&B posturing, vocoded funk-swagger, and distinctive playfulness and charisma.
This latest record opens with decisiveness, the talk box warble of “No Fucking Around” ringing out across minimal, synth-assisted percussive strikes. In contrast to its abrasive hooks, Rafter whispers a croon full of genuine praise, somehow fusing the funkiest of funks and his fragile pop-bent with convincing ease. Going beyond simple juxtaposition, these songs, like virtually all the works of Rafter Roberts, are crafted with skillful stream-of-consciousness and appear to be imbued with all the inspirations that happened to be floating around in his head at the time. In the context of his singular musical vision — at once delicate, bold, intimate, youthful, earnest, humorous, and off-kilter — he runs a thematic gamut that spans the reaches of life, from the serious to the trivial. Friendship, togetherness, love, lust, sex, and death are explored and interpreted, just as the title-track implies (“I’ve got animal feelings, animal thoughts”), through the lens of irrepressible carnal desire and emotion. Album standout “Fruit” embodies that spirit of primal need rather openly, finding Rafter indulging in more talk box-heavy guitar slink throughout this seize-the-day, why-postpone-the-inevitable love-jam. Roberts plays persistent protagonist, his instincts taking the lead in breaking down all barriers that obstruct love.
I don’t think we need to ask if his insistence won out; much of the rest of Animal Feelings celebrates his love for his new wife Lizeth Santos (photographer and sampler/drummer/singer as Smile Now Cry Later). Of course, Rafter also isn’t afraid to acknowledge love’s duality as he does on “Love Makes You Happy (When It’s Not Making You Sad)” and elsewhere on this record with grin-worthy whimsy and plain-spoken honesty. In fact, his charms seem to be exposed equally in pure expressions of happiness and love or when riffing on less joyous subjects. With “Paper”, originally written and recorded for his “Song a Week” project for the Asthmatic Kitty Records website, Rafter constructs an irresistible, rhythmic, tropical-tinged gem around his annoyance at losing ideas and thoughts in the recesses of his brain: “You motherfuckers, you motherfuckers where did you go!?”. Luckily a solution is quickly realized in the song’s namesake and catchy chorus, “I need paper, I need paper / I need paper, yes I do / To keep my thoughts from goin’ away / To keep my thoughts from goin’ away”. Yes, even when he’s bugged by something, Rafter Roberts prefers to express himself through lovable, dancey, hook-laden tunes.
It doesn’t seem like the guy really has a choice. He’s a whirlwind of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm that knows better than to do anything but keep riding that wave to its unending conclusions. And I mean that quite seriously; according to his blog he’s got his next “4 album projects mapped out”. So look for more of Rafter’s pop wizardry — and maybe some “meditation music” — very soon.