The Robot Ate Me dropped their wonderfully adventurous debut of They Ate Themselves just about two years ago, and now they're back with a conceptual double-album that is steps beyond their debut both musically and lyrically. While it doesn't work all the time, it's so utterly bizarre and well-constructed that most of the time it's easy enough to overlook the (sometimes) pretentious and/or completely outlandish vocals. Needless to say, this is one that will probably divide listeners. I have to say that it equally amazed and frustrated me.
The release opens with "The Genocide Ball" and one gets a good idea of things to come as odd vocals by Rhyland Bouchard are sung in a subdued, yet over-the-top way (if that's possible) while the backing instrumentation sounds like a submerged and scratchy recording from the 20's. It's only the first of the many stylistic tricks played on the record, and it continues with the second track "Jesus And Hitler." With instrumentation that sounds like a mixture of haunted house music and swingers music buried in a coat of grit, Bouchard drops absurdist lyrics about the title characters of the song that will either make you chuckle, blush, or want to throw the disc out the window of a moving vehicle. It's one of the weaker lyrical moments on the entire release, going for cheap shock value rather than being more clever and subversive, but the album redeems itself soon enough.
"Oh No! Oh My!" sounds like a Looney Tunes cartoon backing music run over with sandpaper while "Crispy Christian Tea Time" again drops off into lyrics that again might make you cringe. "You Don't Fill Me Up The Same" breaks off into new sonic paths, shattering typical instrumentation into broken bits and pieces of reversed loops and hits while a commentary on popular beverages feels like a lyrical grab-bag that doesn't quite work again. "On Vacation" closes the disc in amazing style, though, with Bouchard crooning over a subtle, achingly lush track that again crackles with the decay of time.
Even though the first disc is just over 20 minutes long, On Vacation is split onto 2 CDs, and it's a stylistic move definitely inspired by the different music on each. While the second disc also opens with a track entitled "On Vacation," it's completely different than the first. It takes the route of an upbeat, almost bouncy experimental pop track that moves in completely different directions than its doppleganger while "Watermelon Sugar" moves in similar ways, sliding along with backwards instrumentation and more light vocals that tackle much more seemingly straightforward subjects. There's still some subversion going on during the second disc, but things are a little more veiled lyrically. While it's an even shorter disc than the first (eight tracks slip by in under twenty minutes), it works much better overall even though it's not quite as ambitious musically.
In the end, On Vacation is an oddly pieced-together 2CD release with seventeen tracks and just about thirty-nine minutes of music total. The bipolar halves of the release work intermitantly thematically, and the release really makes more sense if viewed as 2 EPs housed in the same case. As it stands, though, there are some great moments on each release (the 2nd disc plays out in entirety especially well), and a couple frustrating ones as well. An ambitious, if flawed follow-up release from a group that I'm sure we'll be hearing more from in the future.