When I listen to White Rats top to bottom (as opposed to taking in an isolated cut here or there, which is usually affected by external forces), I don’t envision a lonely bedroom artist creating new worlds in an oxygen-deprived studio. I see dead people or, more accurately, a soon-to-be dead person dubbed Retconned, trapped in a bunker after the world outside has for all intents and purposes ended, attempting to formulate his masterpiece so future generations might be able to hear it in a time capsule-style situation. Yet he’s grasping for this achievement in an environment deprived of any creature comforts. Hell, there’s barely even oxygen to breathe let alone pads to surf upon. And amid this isolation, there’s a yearning embedded in the suffocating scratches at the surface of consciousness, a need to at least try to make contact, even if it’s all futile in the end.
In the fragmented state of today’s underground, isn’t that pretty much what everyone is doing, minus the life-and-death stakes? Bands don’t get paid anymore. They often don’t even care if you exchange currency for their record. They just want you to hear it. But that possibility is fleeting more with every day by dint of regional preferences, the overcrowding of the marketplace despite the economic challenges of turning a profit, different listening habits across disparate formats, and, I would argue, the cheapening of the rock-star myth, which causes us to devalue music and the people who make it magical. Not only do you have to stand out more to make an impression, you almost have to adver-bomb from up-high like a PR sniper.
But here Retconned is, despite all the baggage, weaving together a 500-run full-length to add to a career that is refreshingly devoid of the usual cassette-clog (i.e., a record every four years or so, and only one 7-inch beyond that). Seems Jon Lukens moves at his own pace. Not only that, but he’s ahead of the game that he’s not even playing in. He was busting out this one-man electronic unit stuff back when everyone was still trying to record their Oh, Inverted World, and in this case, his reemergence carries important lessons for those who wish to attain the quality he’s insisted upon. He might even be viewed as a village elder who takes long sabbaticals and returns spiritually refreshed.
If that were the case, with White Rats the info he’s bringing back won’t be of much comfort. Everything is slowed down to the speed of space, all technology rendered mute by the plodding, infinitely curious nature of the arrangements. If Lukens reaches a clime he wants to investigate further, he won’t hesitate to set up camp and root out every nook and cranny; it’s the listener’s job to struggle through the uncertain muck and be there when he checks back in with new discoveries. Within “Fireworks,” contrary to the sparky title, he finds unfamiliar synth life that seems to want to communicate, but can only respond in broken sine waves when Lukens sends a few detached verses its way. He happens upon a large swamp via “The Ceiling,” and every bubble that “bloops” to the surface pops in his face, spraying a fiery liquid across the speakers. Then, dejected, he sits at water’s edge and tries to “correlate” the relation between his mission and the state of his being. “Slow Fade” blows any such considerations out of the water with sheer volume and digital evilry circa Tonto’s Expanding Head Band and/or Harmonia, wherein a single thread of bass deviates little but opens up new worlds of possibility.
I’ll let you connect the rest of the dots yourself. And trust me, you have time; the next Retconned record, by current estimates, won’t arrive until you’ve finally figured out White Rats.