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August 13, 2007 | by  | in Music |
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Ritalin – Roguetown

On their second and apparently final album, Ritalin have grated away most of the melody and harmony from their music, especially through the constantly scowling vocals. What the album does have by way of melody from the guitars kicks out of synch like a backstarting motor – and it is fucking magnificent. The very first riff on the opening track runs out stumbling like the drunk it is, but whenever it threatens to fall over the guitars stand it back up again with a bit of rolling-strum technique.

Whereas their first album, 2003’s Stop Wasting Time (technically an EP) had its fair share of catchy pop tunes (‘Lexi le Blanc’ and ‘Oh Georgia’), Roguetown sticks closer to the baldly bashing overdrive of their live set. It is hard to find any actual singing on the album – instead vocalists Niam and Vanya have decided to state their lyrics. On older versions of ‘Don’t Look Down’ (which really should be the album’s “single” and deserves to be thrashed all over the airwaves) the vocals were delivered in a cold whisper. Here, they open grunting and grating before settling back into the original whisper with “cross the centre line…” On first hearing, I found this transition hard to take, but it turns out to be a stroke of brilliance because it helps the few moments of (almost) sweetness that remain to stand out.

Roguetown has a richer, thicker tone than Ritalin’s previous releases. This gives their rhythm section the power it deserves; the breakdown in ‘The Haunting’ veers into metal territory, and the guitars duly oblige with a few lines of restrained soloing.

Lyrically they are at their best: opening track ‘War Machine’ spits out impassioned politics with enough creative humour and sarcasm to avoid becoming another wannabe Anti-Flag cliché – “You’ve got the right to bear children, the right to bear arms… He may be your brother but there is no other way, shoot him between the eyes!”

The final track, a cover of fellow Rebel High labelmates Two Fat Ladies’ ‘So I’m Told’, ultimately suffers from a comparison with the original Two Fat’s party-ska version. But this is only because the original is the most exuberant and downright enjoyable song to have come out of Dunedin this decade, and by taking a completely different, raw approach to the song Ritalin’s version actually complements the original nicely. They also give ‘Party Van’ the treatment it deserves: the song is basically Ritalin’s autobiography, and it rears its head in the middle of the album to centre everything else around. It is also worth giving a nod to the spooky grey artwork by Nico, which is suitably creepy and reflects the album’s generally misanthropic mood. Ritalin will always be remembered for their live set, and this album makes a fair go at capturing that. Best listened to with the aid of a swappa crate and a scoop of the greasiest chips.

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Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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