Rat The Magnificent is music for a dark room lit by strobe light. A band that deploys rock noises like a coordinated attack: dissonance, screeches, palm muted guitars – they’re all here. But to understand Rat The Magnificent in context, we must first ask one question: Who is Steve Albini?
Several hours of extensive research have revealed this mystery: he is *the* self-made man of the Chicago rock scene. A self-made man that remains fervently loyal to his working class roots, that is. Away from the precarity of social status in the United States, however, Albini creates his own non-hierarchical musical space.
And this image can be used literally, as well: his studio features in HBO’s following of Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways, showed Albini in his own space of music creation, Electrical Audio Studios. Upon learning of his influential role in the production and recording of Nirvana’s third and final masterpiece In Utero, I immersed myself in his fandom, absorbing the ‘in-room’ sound of his various musical ventures – from Big Black to Flour.
As with around 80% of Albini’s recorded output, Rat The Magnificent’s work sounds familiar to the post-punk core of the 90s, before the sudden appearance of neat guitar chord sequences imbue a noticeably clean folk effect. This stylistic diversion is so charming that it captures the essence of a sunbeam cutting through an empty, darkened room. A slow-waltz effect eases the pace of the album, allowing a summery nostalgia to wash over its listeners. This is the moment where the musical space of the album becomes a place of time travel tailored specifically to each of its visitors.
Despite its sumptuous effect, the sound of Rat The Magnificent is distinctively monochromatic. There’s nothing flashy in its auditory aesthetic and there is no indication whatsoever of a heavy – or even light – reliance on sound effects; the powerful imagery the album achieves is owed to the expertise of its creators, in particular Albini. Aesthetically, however, the songs comprising this release are simplistic – an effect that only reinforces its greatness. It showcases the down-to-earth punk style championed by the disillusioned American artists that dominated the 90s music scene.
Sonically, it speaks to the inhabitants of de-instrualised, postmodern landscapes, attempting to reconcile disenchanted listeners with the decay of progressive America. Its sparse style screams anger and frustration at the insidious governmental powers forcibly silencing the collective American voice.
Anyone that has been conscious of major global events this decade will attest that progressive, liberal America needs a global audience now more than ever. Slow, prowling and entropic, “Marrtalon” and “Olon” epitomise the urgency of the album. This is music for the undeterred hopers; the not-yet nihilists.
A Clockwork Orange-esque synth initiates “The For”, recalling the late punk era and the subsequent emergence of post-punk. An era where Public Image Ltd rode-in on a grey, dank, surf from a jobless Britain populated with mounding rubbish bags and strikers. Over thirty years on, readers will attest that, on both sides of the Atlantic, not much has changed: in spite of brief moments of suppressing the right-wing, now – more than ever, the government favours wealthy tax dodgers over tax payers, social division is at an all time high, and pretty much everything decent people worked for in ensuring equality for all is threatened by a minority worshipping ignorance.
And unless we want Leonard Cohen’s famous line ‘The poor stay poor and the rich and get rich’ to become prophetic, we need to be creating, absorbing and disseminating loud, unpolished, unapologetic punk. Punk is ordinary people disregarding manners, walking up to the privileged in power and screaming: ‘This isn’t right, and in no discrete terms, I’m going to tell you why.’ Steve Albini and Rat the Magnificent get that. Completely.