A Season of Songs, Day 31: School

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Having opted out of going to see the “Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington DC” documentary last night due to some lingering sickness, it was interesting to wake up this morning and be given a DC band to write about today.  Today we have “School” by Rainlikethesoundoftrains (RLT/SOT), who wouldn’t have been covered in that documentary as they formed in the 90’s and that movie covers just the 80’s in DC.  However, the roots of RLT/SOT were in DC bands Soulside and Beefeater.

Just like the average American diet
Insures the average American will die from it
History is written by the conquerer
In a way the conquered will buy it.

As I talked about just a few days ago, I first saw RLT/SOT in 1993 when I went to see a friend’s band play in Philly.  I didn’t immediately fall in love with them.  Their sound would in many ways follow the form of many of the DC bands of that era – slower (tho’ not necessarily slow), longer songs, but the songs had a funkiness to them that threw many people off, including myself.  That funkiness was brought into the mix by bassist Dug E. Bird who had played in Beefeater, also known for their eccentric songs that didn’t quite fit any known punk formula.  Beefeater songs were generally fast, chaotic and all over the place in a way that made the funky bass seem somehow less weird.  In these slower, more measured songs, the bass just makes itself known.

On the flipside, the other main component of RLT/SOT’s feel was lyricist and vocalist Bobby Sullivan.  While the majority of Soulside’s catalog was more mid-paced and melodic, they did experiment with some longer, drawn at songs.  Bobby’s lyrics were always thought-out, meditative looks at issues of big issues like war and justice delivered in a poetic manner.  Simple sloganeering was not Bobby’s thing.

Even upon hearing RLT/SOT’s first 7″, I wasn’t still sure what to make of this band.  The record starts with what undoubtedly the funkiest slap-bass intro you’d find in an emo kid’s record collection in 1994.  But multiple listens had me intrigued and by the time their full-length came out, I think we all had an appreciation for what they were doing.  Of course by the end of 1994, they would be no more and I would not get another chance to see them live.

When I first played some RLT/SOT for Emma, she had mostly the same reaction — “What is this?” I’m not sure about this.”   It’s a bit of a natural reaction to all that slappin’ bass, but once you dig deeper into the songs, listening to the lyrics, feeling the interplay of the guitars and drums and vocals with that bass, well, then you can enjoy the songs as a whole.  There will still be times where you’ll say “I don’t know…” but the focus is much more likely to have moved along to singing along.

Seriously, you’ve probably ignored these guys for too long.  You’re a little older now and maybe a bit more open-minded. Give them another shot.  You’ll dig it.  Trust me.

Couldn’t find “School” available for listening anywhere, so here’s a link to the What I Want/Washington Bullets 7″.

Also, here’s a bonus, this song is from the band Regulator Watts (ex-Hoover) with Bobby Sullivan on guest vocals.  So good.

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