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where the heck is the water?


Ratbelly vs. Gorgotron
Bandaloop Records

Note: This review originally appeared in the January 23, 2002 edition of the Pittsburgh City Paper

There are very few local bands that require listeners to wear a seat belt while their music is playing. Well, buckle up, because Ritual Space Travel Agency’s latest release Ratbelly vs. Gorgotron is the rollercoaster ride you won’t find in an amusement park. It’s safe to say that RSTA’s music is very reflective of their name -- listening to their music is similar to participating in some bizarre, space-aged, shamanistic ceremony designed to transport the mind and spirit to another mental plane.

RSTA’s, Andrew Fitz (guitar), Jesse Prentiss (vocals/bass), Troy Cramer (drums), Kevin Deeter (percussion), and Jamie (alto sax) collectively created a wildly imaginative concept record of sorts. Ratbelly serves as a loose soundtrack to a short collage-animated movie-in-the-making about two giant, non-functioning robots battling each other. With everything on this record conceptualized, from the cover art to the lyrical content to small instrumental interludes that connect certain songs, RSTA have put together an interesting musical package.

For many people, RSTA is “a tough pill to swallow,” as Prentiss rages in the intense tune “Mengele,” but this is not because of some lack of musicality -- rather, perhaps, the opposite. The band easily can compact more ideas into a twenty-second transitional section than most artists can in two songs. For some people it’s too much to handle; for others it’s stimulating and exciting.

There’s no doubt that RSTA wants to challenge the listener, to keep them on the edge of their seat biting their nails down to the nub. Songs like, “Death to the Bloodstained Giant,” “Puna Co.” and the dissonant “Fractured” are busier than a New York traffic jam -- and almost as loud. With the musical flexibility of a yoga guru, RSTA flips from hard jazz to tinkering with bossa nova, reggae, fusion -- even teetering the borderline of a progressive metal attack at moments. Simultaneously, Prentiss sings dry, offbeat lyrics painting vivid pictures of the cartoonish violence between the robots, while the band draws up a colorful cacophony of sound.

RSTA has developed gradually over the years. Prentiss’ vocal range has expanded from the straightforward, barely-take-a-breath approach to an open, unique sense of phrasing heard in “On An Island” -- a vocal highlight. The underlying tug-of-war-tension in their music can be attributed to Fitz’s dark and chunky, raging guitar tone verses Jamie and guest saxophonist Pat Leyden’s fiery horn lines. The foundation of their sound comes from the solid drumming of Troy Cramer, who fluidly travels in-and-out of time signatures. Rounding out their sound is Deeter, who’s percussive additions are like seasonings to the overall groove, but are tough to hear when the band is at full throttle, although he can be heard more in the instrumental interludes. Mix all of those elements together and you end up with RSTA: an interestingly sick and demented, frantic, off-the-wall sound that forces listener’s to actively listen, hit the rewind button or constantly ask out loud: “How the hell did they do that?”

(CD reviewed by Byron Nash)