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Album Review: RAC – Strangers

4 min read

From the get-go, this debut collection from Portuguese-born Portland resident André Allen Anjos – or producer/acclaimed remixer RAC – gets an extra half star purely by virtue of its genius method of release. Strangers Pt. 1 was released back in March as seven-song set featuring some A-list cameos from some of indie music’s biggest names: Tegan & Sara, Tokyo Police Club and even a strapping young lad by the name of Kele Okereke from a little outfit you may have heard of called Bloc Party. The full release of Strangers this month only expands on this impressive cavalry of stars with Sweden’s Peter Morén (of Peter Björn and John), up-and-coming Brooklynite Matthew Koma and famed South African globetrotters St. Lucia chipping in with appearances. And this is not even mentioning the plentiful Oregon locals, of whom there are more than enough for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to cast another whole season of Portlandia.

RAC Strangers Part 1The staggered release of Strangers Pt. 1 & 2 is a really smart move from a marketing standpoint: Release the first half of a record straight off the back of a European tour before jetting off to the famous SXSW music conference in Austin TX, then drop the second half right as a US tour is in full swing a month later. Think of it as a streamlined, indie approach in the vague ballpark of Justin Timberlake’s wildly successful 20/20 Experience experiment.

The record kicks off with first single Let Go (Feat. Kele & MNDR) which dropped a few months back. It’s a bouncy slice of melancholy pop with Mr. Okereke’s always comforting voice at the forefront telling a cautionary romantic tale in the verses and San Francisco-via-New York songstress MNDR (real name Amanda Warner) taking care of a wonderfully carefree chorus. Overall the bubbly feel and glossy (but not too glossy) hook make for a catchy single and great start to the album. Next up is the saccharine ‘80s workout Ello Ello (Feat. Body Language) which carries on in the same perky, good-time vibe before leading into the aptly titled Hollywood (Feat. Penguin Prison) which has that same breezy Californian guitar-pop vibe of a lot of the better new-wave-revival stuff coming out in the last few years.

Interlude track Cells sounds like a synthesizer dropped in a fish tank (in a good way, mind you) but gives way to the highlight of Strangers, Hard to Hold (Feat. Tegan & Sara). Equal parts ‘70s yacht-rock and ‘90s girl-pop with a rich string section, it occupies the same niche the Haim sisters have absolutely nailed of late but Tegan & Sara bring their unmistakably unique sense of melancholy to the song in a way that, as always, is entirely their own.

Staying on the melancholy tip, Tourist (Feat. Tokyo Police Club) keeps things plodding along showing that “cool” music doesn’t have to be devoid of emotion while Tear You Down is another sweet, almost Britpop offering featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros frontman Alex Ebert.

The second half of the record kicks off with Sixteen, a largely acoustic instrumental before numerically segueing into Seventeen which features Anjos’ wife Liz under the name Pink Feathers and continues the bouncy, human/electronic feel of Strangers to great effect. The sequencer at the start of Repeating Motion sounds exactly like The Who’s Baba O’Reily before Karl Kling’s subdued, folky tones give the song a kind of earthy honesty: Think Paul Simon’s Graceland reimagined for 2014. Following on is a turn from Peter Björn and John’s Peter Morén which sounds a bit like the Tegan and Sara track from earlier in the album, but Morén’s comforting, layered vocals completely inhabit the song and his tasteful guitar again proves that electronic and acoustic instruments truly can be friends in the right setting. Austin band Speak guest on the bleak, ‘80s electro of I Should Have Guessed and while not really adding anything earth-shattering to Strangers, the sweet acoustic lines and reverb-ed out Fleet Foxes-esque falsetto counterbalance the synths in a pretty unique way.

Now, St. Lucia make a great sister-band for RAC. Both seem to love the sonic textures and melodic sensibility of the ‘80s but are keenly aware of how to sensibly employ them without sounding tacky or contrived. Ready For It is a gorgeously layered romantic to-and-fro rich in metaphor and yet another highlight of Strangers.

Local Portland multimedia artists YACHT appear for another squelchy, atmospheric ‘80s workout on 405 and Colorado singer-songwriter Katie Herzig fills out a beautiful string and piano/electro mashup on We Belong before the set finishes up with the xylophone-driven summertime jauntiness of Cheap Sunglasses with vocals from New York’s Matthew Koma.

Overall, Strangers is a pretty remarkable album. Not only does it feature more amazing guest stars than an Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live, but it showcases just how vastly the extent to which RAC’s musicality extends. There’s definitely a recurring sound throughout which we can pretty comfortably classify as “bouncy electro pop”, however there are many twists and turns over the course of its mammoth 16-track length lead you to believe that Strangers must have been a painstaking labour of love over the last few years for Anjos. It’s a massive payoff and surely a record that will gain some well-deserved recognition in the months to come.