I don't know if Justin Hopkins, the man behind Rarebit, is aware of what the name he's chosen usually describes. In case you're not either, then basically it's cheese on toast. Specifically, melted cheddar cheese given increased fluidity with a little milk, ale or Worcestershire sauce, while the toast wallows, barely visible, underneath. It's kind of like someone got a fondue the wrong way round.
If that's what Justin Hopkins named his music after, then I'm confused. The melty part makes sense – this, his debut album “Daizo”, is an extremely fluid mash of gurgling noises, squelchy synths, belching horns and the occasional polyrhythm. Yet, if you define cheese musically as something poppy, formulaic and easy to digest, then this is about as far from cheesy as you could possibly get.
“Running Tangles”, for instance, is a crazed, frenetic blur of keyboard improvisation and overlapping tribal rhythms, while a voice, potentially Hopkins', periodically goes “ah, ah , ah!” in the background. Sometimes backwards. After about a minute, it all breaks down, dissolving like a plastic figurine in a microwave. It's surprisingly engaging, considering it's initially like listening to several people all playing different video games simultaneously, but it certainly isn’t cheesy.
Neither is “Convergence”, despite the fact that it is essentially a six-and-a-half-minute sax solo. Throughout, Hopkins employs disorientating touches along the lines of discordant piano bashes and metallic thumps, combining elements of industrial music, free jazz and twelve-tone serial progression into something that's not nearly as offensive as it should be. The solo itself is fantastic, but the whole thing smacks of something Ninja Tune might have endorsed in the 90s whenever they got too stoned. It's experimental, but never at the risk of upsetting anyone.
The tracks merge into each other, but not in a clever way; more like Hopkins only had three distinctive ideas, of which two were made into individual tracks and the other stretched across the rest of the album. “Running Tangles”, for instance, utilises material from the same drum tracking session as “Mt. Weather”, but if you're going to do that you need to make sure the source material is top-notch, which it isn't. As such, only the former really works. The latter just sounds like an ambient remix, a sort of stillborn conjoined twin.
Even the best track, the charmingly mesmerising “Phantom Wall”, is hampered by the fact that it sounds like Panda Bear to the point of distraction. Which is odd. You'd expect the most interesting thing about Rarebit's music would be its originality, but instead he's at his best when he sounds like someone else.
Hopkins has a second vocation as a visual artist. He also has a way with words. “I like to think of my music as fungus encrusted and in a constant state of growth and decay. In this way I am influenced by the organic, wet, and florally lush environment in which I grew up”. The environment he's talking about is the small ferry town of Mukilteo near Washington. Now he lives in Los Angeles, and it's hard not to suspect the stress, hassle, noise and chaos of living there hasn't corrupted the clarity of his original vision.
Sometimes that can work for an artist. In Rarebit's case I'm not sure it has. It is fine on tracks like “Emergence”, which cleverly arranges the more frantic elements so they play off the softer sounds, but often “Daizo” just resembles the album artwork he created for it: arresting, sure, but messy, unbalanced, and oddly off-putting. The best moments are the most pastoral. Maybe Hopkins needs to escape the million competing voices of LA and return to his “florally lush” origins to purify his vision. Rediscover and recalibrate. Because while there's talent here, there's no focus.