Prince Rama Prince RamaTrust Now
I first saw Prince Rama, or Prince Rama of Ayodhya as they were then known, at the Green Man festival in Wales four years ago. They were just about the weirdest proposition on the bill. The drums clattered, the melodies swelled, and you were never more than a minute away from a bout of high-pitched yelping. Featuring keyboardist Michael Collins and drummer Taraka Larson alongside her sister Nimai on guitar and vocals, the whole experience was a bit like walking into your hippie auntie's Astral Energy dance class. But in a good way. In fact it was a surprise to realise, ten minutes in, that no one around me was naked.
After that I made sure to pick up debut album “Threshold Dances” and was not disappointed, even if it did occasionally stray into sounding like an amateur-dramatic musical interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. For amid the crazed whooping and chanting there were some excellent songs, not least the auto-harp opus “Gita Nagari (Part I)”. Also, the knowledge that the whole band actually grew up in a Hare Krishna community stopped the spiritual dimension and eastern-influenced phrasing from seeming contrived.
Since then they've streamlined. They dropped “Of Ayodhya” (name a bit too weird?) and Michael Collins (name not weird enough?) has taken temporary leave. Yet ironically the sound is bigger than ever on “Trust Now”, their fifth full-length album, and the loss of Collins hasn't diminished the dominance of synths. Furthermore, the decision to record the album in a 19th Century church with Scott Colborn (who's produced Arcade Fire and Animal Collective), means Prince Rama sound more epic than ever.
The album kicks off with a montage of soulful “oooooooh yeeeaaaeeaaaaeeaah” samples (a trick previously employed by Portland's Quasi), before a tumult of brutal synth stabs introduce opening track “Rest In Peace”. Nimai's voice has developed nicely over the last few years, and her singing is much less shrill than on previous releases; toned down just as everything else is turned up.
The music has also morphed slightly. The primary influence is still Eastern, but further East than before. South-East Asia specifically. Pentatonic scales abound, and on songs like “Summer Of Love” Prince Rama sound a little like California-cum-Cambodia outfit Dengue Fever (if Dengue Fever sounded as weird as they look).
They also have not a little Gang Gang Dance about them, sharing a similar commitment to the sort of musical freedom that can only be attained through otherworldly, synth-driven improvisation. The keyboard patterns and shifting tempos of “Trust” are certainly familiar in this respect, though whenever you forget who you're listening to, a ribald chant of the song's title helpfully pops up. Only Prince Rama goes for mantras rather than choruses.
The following track, “Portalling”, is the most chilled on the album, though even this is still awash with cymbal crashes. The drums are, as always, played with a free-spirited abandon, but here the tuned percussion of the gamelan provides some welcome contrast. Yet while you can never call Prince Rama unwilling to experiment, you might find the constant shifting a bit exhausting after a while. Also, perhaps because of the ambience of the church it was recorded in, the parts can occasionally sound a little indistinct and muddy. There seems to be a fashion for recording in churches at the moment (Wu Lyf did the same recently), but you have to wonder whether it's really worth it? I'm sure for the artists it's all about the reverential atmosphere of the surroundings, but sound-wise it's hard to see what benefit it has for the music. Unless you really, really like reverb.
Regardless, if you can live with Prince Rama's new age idiosyncrasies, such complaints are trivial. There's more going on in the six tracks here than some bands could fit in sixty. There is really no one quite like them, and that is a very good thing. Partly because it emphasises the singularity of their approach and enhances the exotic results. Partly because more than one Prince Rama might be too much to take. Even for your hippie auntie's dance class.
Kier Wiater Carnihan