Eclectic New Yorkers triumph over the punk-funk hype

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Score 4

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Bliss Factory

The transition from cult phenomenon to proper success is a perilous one, as many briefly fashionable groups will testify. A year ago, The Rapture were approximately the coolest band on the planet, chiefly thanks to a raging disco-punk single called “House Of Jealous Lovers” made with the equally hip production team DFA. Since then, the music world has been alive to the possibilities of what we might reductively call an early-’80s revival. Grimy New York warehouses, etiolated funk and marginal legends like Liquid Liquid have become critical touchstones. The Gang Of Four are referenced in most reviews of new bands, and mediocre talents like Radio 4 have been elevated way above their station.

The Rapture, meanwhile, have spent most of 2003 missing the boat, embroiled in a nasty tug of war between major labels for Echoes, the album they largely finished months ago. Now it’s finally arrived, the good news is that these four diffident men based in New York have made a record which transcends any scene’s fleeting credibility. Yes, there are explicit links to dancefloor/punk fusions of the early ’80s: tunes which combine propulsive rhythms with difficult angles; guitars seemingly strung with cheese wire; a pervading atmosphere which alludes to peculiarly nerve-wracking parties.

It’d naive to deny the influence of, say, PiL on the title track. But there’s so much more to Echoes. For a start, The Rapture are commendably eclectic in their influences. One moment they’re engaged in a tense update of early house on “I Need Your Love”, the next they’re revealing their hardcore roots on “The Coming Of Spring”, as redolent of Fugazi as it is of The Pop Group.

The Cure and the Happy Mondays are in here, too. Less predictably, three exceptional ballads, “Open Up Your Heart”, “Love Is All” and “Infatuation”, are weirdly reminiscent of the jagged, visceral songs on Big Star’s Sister Lovers, even if Luke Jenner’s cracked vocals essay love rather than desolation. It’s this surprising emotional core, buried in the DFA’s fluent, genre-splicing mix, which makes Echoes such an enduring record. A humanity which contradicts the chilly academic posturing habitually associated with NYC white-boy funk, and which suggests The Rapture will survive long after scenesters abandon their copies of No New York.