Rafter Roberts is essentially a human, musical candy machine. Whether recording with his band, Bunky, or on his own, as simply `Rafter,’ the San Diego-based musician, songwriter and professional ad jingle composer dispenses melodies as neat, individually wrapped confections, each one sweet and bite-sized for easier, more addictive consumption. And like a good confectioner, he delivers a wide variety of treats, his Almond Joys lined up next to M&Ms, peanut butter cups and chocolate-dipped pretzels. Sometimes, when his experimental side gets the best of him, as on Music For Total Chickens, he’ll stack a can of sardines between a Snickers and a ham sandwich, but rest assured, that Snickers is still there for the taking.
On Rafter’s third full-length, Sex, Death, Cassette, the red-headed pop mastermind has returned, fully-stocked, but in this round, he dishes out his most delectable creations to date, more Vosges or Leonida’s than Mars, Inc. That the songs on Sex, Death, Cassette are his best to date is truly saying something, as, even at his least focused, Roberts is capable of some truly mesmerizing sounds. Here, he’s merely tossed out the ham and sardines, leaving 19 tracks of pure sugary goodness.
Of the 19 songs on Sex, the overwhelming majority are between one and two minutes long, each one blowing by quickly but hedonistically, delivering as much fun as humanly possible in the course of a tiny melody. Tracks like “Breathing Room” and “Thunderclap” offer quotable goods like “fuck you, the sky,” and “it’s gettin’ shitty,” respectively, while the 30 second highlight “I Love You Most of All” consists of little more than a reading of the song’s title and some lo-fi acoustic strumming. With a low-tuned acoustic, “Adventurers” is a lazy but catchy gem highlighted by trumpet, while the brief “Adventurers” amazingly combines spy theme and Afrobeat without really sounding much like either.
The handful of fully fleshed-out two-and-a-half minute or longer tracks showcase Rafter’s songwriting at its strongest. Leadoff track “zzzPenchant” rocks a funk bassline, with shifting time signatures and badass sax, while Roberts sings (from the perspective of a TV, it seems) “I’ve got news for you, the world is black and blue, and tired of being abused.” “Love Time Now Please” finds Roberts spouting gibberish lyrics over a tropical backing, to delightful effect. With weeping violins and hyperactive rhythms, “Chances” is a bittersweet, emotional peak, Roberts asking in his innocent, youthful tone, “Am I falling in love?” And “Casualty of Dance Music,” one of two `casualties’ here (must be the Death portion of the title), sounds nothing like dance music, and more of a dreamy, abstract ballad with electronics and flute creating a hazy sort of whimsy.
Considering how short many of the songs on Sex, Death, Cassette are, more often than not some of these songs come off as a little half-baked. But then again, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love chowing on some raw cookie dough or cake batter. Aw, crap, I just ruined the whole metaphor, didn’t I? Well, no matter, whether stirring up fresh baked tunes or audible candy, Rafter ensures that each serving is as fun as music gets.
The Microphones – The Glow, Part Two
Heavy Vegetable – The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends
Shapes and Sizes – Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.