I’ve been following Dominic Rabalais for a number of years now, having become friends through the musical collaborations of the Ames, Des Moines, and Fairfield scenes. I’ve seen him go from Porno Galactica to Utopia Park to Coyote Slingshot to Little Ruckus, pretty much always taking it to the next level with each new project.
If you’ve seen a Little Ruckus show, then you know that collaboration is the name of the game; the power of the collective is at the core of Little Ruckus’ mission. In the last year or so, Little Ruckus and a gang of friends have invented something called the Sandwich Eatin’ Crew (S!E!C!), which is really just anyone and everyone who wants to party with Little Ruckus. It seems absolutely silly and ridiculous, and it is, but happily everybody knows that, including those in the S!E!C!.
The amazing thing is that this wacky creation is what has finally allowed Dominic Rabalais to achieve what I perceive to be his vision for his art, and his new album proves it.
A Little Ruckus album would be good without the S!E!C!, but after listening to Tank Girl vs. Cape Girl, I’m convinced that it wouldn’t be great, particularly because every song pushes the same point of partying, dancing, and living and loving together in ridiculous awesomeness; at some point it’d be hard to believe it if Little Ruckus didn’t live it.
Pretty much every song has a core chorus that is signature Little Ruckus: some huge statement that preaches Sweat Power. The album credits read, “WE LIVE THE WEIRD LIFE! SWEATPOWER IS OUR RELIGION! THIS SANDWICH EATIN CREW IS OUR FAMILY! Anyone can be in the S!E!C! Just let your butt sweat and stay free!”
You get the idea. I personally love the philosophy. Whether or not only singing about that makes continually meaningful and relevant music is up for debate, but fortunately Little Ruckus makes it easy for the listener, because while he mainly seems to be saying one thing all the time with his words, his production and arrangements say a whole lot more.
For example, the song “Promise Land” could potentially be tossed away in the context of the entire record (you start to feel slight hints of deja vu about this point of 3/4 the way through the record) – and then you hit the 1:30 mark, and exotic electro-Persian beats drop in and saxophones riding the backs of camels under the Arabian Sea hover into the dream, and convince me that the dream is real, and not a lie. That moment holds me in. It is perhaps the best on the record, strangely enough; to me, it shows that Little Ruckus is anything but simple-minded. His art has an air of childishness (which I’m sure he’d readily admit), but it’s clear it’s taken him his entire life to create it.
So “Promise Land” is one example, but this record is full of similar experiences. Early in the record, on “Stay Free,” the song’s ecstatic vibrancy comes from two things: the group chants of “Stay free!” (which feel amazing, by the way) and the introduction of Lane Weaver to the listener (it should be noted that his contribution is, in my opinion, critical to the quality of this record). So this guy pops in, seemingly out of nowhere, with a sort of rap that is absolutely hilarious and weird and amazing (I believe he refers to himself as “Louis Weavton” at one point, a direct reference to Louis Vuitton, the terribly obvious rich hip-hop star’s fashion go-to). I’m walking the fine line of sounding like a square, but rappers can often sound to me like they are trying to be something they aren’t; on this track, however, Lane Weaver is anything but. For some reason, no matter how off-the-wall he gets, I feel like that’s just him. I believe him. And it’s at this point, right between tracks two and three, that you know this record is gonna be way more than Dom yelling into a microphone (not a bad thing at all, but this is better, trust me).
The decidedly “hip-hop” moments (again, I’m indicating my lack of knowledge of this type of music by putting it into quotes, laugh all you like) are some of the strongest and maybe strangest, and I think they ultimately take this record from good to great.
There’s too many guests on this record to delve into each one, but I do have to mention two others. The track “New Knives” features someone called Wild Man. Now I know exactly who Wild Man is, as I’m sure many who read this review will, but I feel like I should explain. Wild Man is one Brian Stout, who is a hell of a trombone player. He plays a trombone solo on this song, a detail which the credits and the sound of the song leave out. Little Ruckus has completely digitized the horn and made it a whole new beast, which I don’t think a lot of people will realize, but I have to say that knowing it’s a trombone makes it very exciting to listen to.
The other guest appearance I want to mention happens on “Set My Spirit Free,” which is one of the best on the record and also the pinnacle of Little Ruckus’ writing style; this is the essence of Little Ruckus. Listen to this track and I think you’ll get what he’s all about. The track is taken to the next level when Slaydrien (that is, Adrien Daller, lead singer for Fairfield pop duo Trouble Lights, which is not coincidentally completed by Dom’s broth Philip) comes in at the end. The first time you hear it, you might think it’s a bit over the top, but I guarantee you’ll fall in love with this moment. That’s kinda the nature of all the guest appearances — they’re big and bold and weird and that is why they’re amazing.
Tank Girl closes with an atypical track, “Our Wedding” — an insanely beautiful and perfect instrumental soundscape that speaks volumes, perhaps more than a lot of the actual words that came before it. But it couldn’t exist without the rest. This song is made powerful because of the experience of all the songs leading up to it; the journey is essential. And just as this profound moment isn’t possible without all the other moments on the record, the power of Little Ruckus isn’t possible without all the people who make up that goofy Sandwich Eatin’ Crew thing. What an idea!
Anyway, I just wrote that somewhat epic paragraph while listening to that last track, which may indicate to you the way the music can make one feel. I need to go cry now. Please listen to this record.
Chris Ford is a singer/songwriter in Christopher the Conquered and the cofounder of Maximum Ames Records.