I took Rainbow Danger Club’s advice and listened to their new EP Into the Cellar exactly how they said I should: headphones, dark room, getting ready for the apocalypse (candles and snacks). But the truth is I would have enjoyed it no matter how I listened to it.
If you listened to RDC’s previous album, 2011’s Where Maps End, then you’re already familiar with the sound of RDC, which definitely has carried over onto their most recent release. They aren’t your typical indie-rock quartet. In fact, I find it hard to describe them since they seem to stand out not only on the Shanghai music scene, but in the larger music world as well. There are shades of well-known bands Arcade Fire, The National and The Decemberists in their music, plus the spacey, ethereal sounds heard from early Radiohead like OK Computer. But RDC isn’t a copy of any of these bands—they’ve taken influences from so many sources to create something else. The music on Into the Cellar is lush and progressive, using multiple instruments, arrangements, song orchestrations and sounds to create an EP that is best listened to as a whole rather than just a song here or there.
Even though Into the Cellar is meant to be heard as a whole, that’s not to say that there aren’t notable, stand-alone songs on the album. In fact, the whole album is a blend of catchy, memorable songs mixed with instrumentals that move the album along. There’s the singalong-worthy “The Gathering of Fools,” and “Country Way,” the latter of which exalts a simpler, computer-free life while cheekily using auto-tune and electronic percussion on the same track.
“Postcards from the Apocalypse” is a surprisingly optimistic yet still hazy-sounding song that chronicles two people finding their way through a burned and desolate apocalyptic world. But then it’s closely followed by the reflective “Summer’s End,” a stripped-down, melancholic folk song. “Summer’s End” blends effortlessly into “Homemade Rockestship,” a more buoyant song about building a rocket to space and exploring the universe.
The songs mix with each other, lyrically but also musically, buffered occasionally by lyric-less mood pieces that use a variety of instruments. In addition to the standard guitar/drums/keyboard setup of most indie-rock bands, RDC also uses the ukulele, cello (most notably on “The Gathering of Fools”), organ, and harmonica (for a beautiful addition to “Country Way”), plus a pretty creative use of whistling. The trumpet is still featured heavily as well.
If their last album was about a sea journey to the ends of the Earth, this one is most aptly about the beginnings of a space journey to the ends of the galaxy. There are even recycled refrains at the beginning of this album that came from their last, making me believe that RDC is thinking of their music being connected on a whole other scale most bands don’t. The album ends with four instrumental pieces (“Journey to the Gates of Atlantis I, II, III, and IV”) that build and build and then end…nowhere. It feels unfinished, which is what I imagine it’s supposed to feel like.
This album isn’t at all an EP as it contains twelve full songs and comes in at just under fifty-two minutes. It does feel like it’s meant to be part of a larger work, though, but whether all these songs will survive to be released on a new album next year remains to be seen. RDC must have a wealth of material if this is just a “sampling” of what we can expect, and the songs on this album display a strong sense of musicianship as well as exceptional songwriting. It’s well worth getting this album now (very, very much worth it) from Rainbow Danger Club’s Bandcamp page.