At the moment, reality is a bit hard to stomach. Events become increasingly stranger and ever more alarming each day. Even during the Bush regime, I always maintained hope that people would eventually come to their senses, that they would see the folly of neoconservative policies, that religious fundamentalism, blind patriotism, and a false notion of the American Dream hadn’t permeated enough of Amerika to send us spiraling into an environment of rabid fear leading to a new era of McCarthyism or worse. So it’s truly disheartening to see such a virulent environment out there, fueled by media demagoguery injecting venom into a confused and frustrated public. The storm could start as early as this November, signaling the arrival of even more ominous clouds as we move toward 2012.
What does the current political environment have to do with Prince Rama? What political implications could be inherent in a trio of ex-Hare Krishna, Krautrock-influenced kids who have just signed to a label run by Animal Collective? Well, I’ve never been much of an escapist, especially as I’ve gotten older. I tend to value art that somehow comments on the socio-political sphere — maybe pouring through all those copies of Maximum Rocknroll while in college has left an indelible imprint on me — but this Prince Rama record represents to me a value that I used to more or less reject, but one that, at least at the moment, I really need. That value is escapism.
The band takes its name from the seventh avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Rama is the subject of one of the great Hindu epics, The Ramayana, and is normally represented by a blue regal dude with a bow who, for all I know, might as well be a member of the X-Men. In fact, Shadow Temple is a record that could properly score parts of the Ramayana, especially the Yuddha Kanda, where Rama battles, once and for all, the supremely evil Ravana. Coincidentally, this record would also be a good soundtrack for the Dark Phoenix Saga or other fictional space epics.
Prince Rama’s sound is amazingly robust, giving the term “power trio” whole new dimensions. A seemingly simplistic setup of “tribal” drumming, whirring synthesizer, and high-wire vocal theatrics combine to create a quasar-like force, the strength of their sound made even more impressive by what sounds like an almost complete absence of guitars. At the heart of it all is the highly affecting call-and-response chanting of sanskrit mantras that fills the music of Prince Rama with a truly unique quality. But with all the seemingly coy art-school affectations here, the music of this trio, sisters Nimai and Taraka Larson with childhood friend Michael Collins, feels legitimately sincere. There really hasn’t been anything of this sort since the celestial psychedelia of Popul Vuh and Amon Düül. Married with a pinch of futuristic urban mysticism à la Gang Gang Dance and you have one of the more original releases in recent memory.
Although technically their fourth album, Shadow Temple is Prince Rama’s major bow in front of the increasingly intense glare of the online indie music press. But rather than withering from the mounting pressure, the band has forged an incredibly assured record that plays by its own rules and succeeds in creating its own unique world. With all the problems in the world, Shadow Temple is a welcomingly immersive album, capable of conjuring vivid cosmic epics and providing a much-needed escape between a pair of headphones.