Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Drag City
Rangda is, in essence, an exercise in balancing the idiosyncrasies of Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny, and Chris Corsano. They’ve never had a problem doing it, but they perfect it onThe Heretic’s Bargain: Bishop’s energy moves forward, persistently cutting through to some golden destiny; Chasny’s energy is consuming and destructive, a cyclone that swallows the music itself (take a look around at a Six Organs show and notice all the kids with their eyes rolled back, jaws hanging open). They’re a thrilling pair, giving each other space to stretch out but staying close to cohere.
Rangda’s third album proper certainly starts as it means to go on. Were there such a thing as a surfin’ bird of paradise, To Melt the Moon would surely be their jam. Beginning with furtive bursts of guitar and snare, you can imagine said creature giving a little shimmy before breaking into full uninhibited kinetic splendour. There is a jazz-surf-western feel to this first track which has shades of John Zorn about it (albeit without the screeching sax).
Chaos and order are the poles that Rangda swings between, but order usually wins. On each of their three albums, the trio of guitarists Richard Bishop and Ben Chasny and drummer Chris Corsano have hewn to a basic pattern: several compact tunes combining riff-heavy instrumental rock with moments of abandon, plus one lengthier piece that ventures farther out. Their latest, The Heretic’s Bargain, begins laser-precise: "To Melt the Moon" is a gnarled coil of twisting guitar lines and shuffling rhythm, with Bishop threading needles and Chasny chasing him through rolling peaks and valleys.
On their own, musicians Sir Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny, and Chris Corsano aren’t ones to sit still. All three seem to always have some project or another going—hell, Chasny has a record from another project, Coypu, out the same day as the record we’re about to talk about—so it’s somewhat amazing that they have managed to make three records together. But here we are with their latest and best album, The Heretic’s Bargain.
On their third full-length as Rangda, drummer Chris Corsano and guitarists Ben Chasny and Sir Richard Bishop sharpen their focus considerably, tightening their already impeccable musicianship and resulting in some of their most successful material. The album opens with shotgun guitar riffs and snapping snare drums before launching into a demented surf rock rhythm in 5/4 time, which jumps along at a bouncy tempo, highlighting Bishop's Middle Eastern-influenced guitar melodies, and only getting chaotic during a few brief, controlled moments. The following two songs pack the group's propulsive drumming, twisted time signatures, and sun-baked desert melodies into less than three minutes apiece.
There’s a storm brewing. Clouds writhe and branches flail as it grows bigger and bigger, the sky turning darker by the minute, until everything suddenly dissipates – only for the process to begin all over again. This is the image evoked time and again while listening to improv rockers Rangda’s latest effort, their wiry instrumentals consisting of sinister, circuitous riffs churned over and over till they’re ready to burst.
Since the 2007 dissolution of their long-running, free-wheeling trio Sun City Girls (following the death of drummer Charles Gocher), brothers Alan and Sir Richard Bishop have kept busy, churning out all manner of solo and collaborative records and touring the globe, continuing to absorb its endless supply of folk musics along the way. In recent months both have returned, though, in effect, to the classic Sun City Girls format – two guitarists and a drummer – to release albums with the disregard for genre, time, and other constraints that defined their beloved earlier group. Alan's effort, part of Three Lobed's Parallelograms box set, is an abrasive-but-playful set by an impromptu power trio: Bishop, with guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Chris Corsano.
The opening bars of “Melt the Moon,” which kick off this third collaboration between experimental rock mainstays Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano, raise a firestorm of percussive energy, Corsano in full flailing frenzy. Although the track calms and clarifies in later sections, with winding, lyrical guitar solos, it maintains a fractious, meter-shifting friction. It sets the tone for Heretic’s Bargain, which revisits the noisier, more confrontational tracks from 2012’s Formerly Extinct and the two years’ earlier False Flag, but leaves no space for languid, liquid serenities like “Plain of Jars” and “Silver Nile.