Ras Xix – Ras Xix
Release Date: May 1, 2014
Record Label: Independent
There are some bands whose influence will never die. Some of these seminal artists are blatantly obvious, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, and a few others who were so hugely influential that you can pick up bits and pieces of their sound just about anywhere – even when the emulation isn’t intended by the band at hand. We don’t usually think of more recent bands as a part of this immortal group though, and if we do, it has more as much to do with a narrative that cut their career short (Nirvana, for instance) as it does with the actual music. Somehow, though, it seems that another early 90s radio rock fixture has reached the “undying influence category as well, at least judging by the bands I’ve been getting advances from lately. That band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
On the surface, it’s easy to figure out why so many artists look toward RHCP as a model for musical influence. After all, the band has been playing music together for over 30 years now, and despite line-up difficulties (and one fatality) early on, the Chili Peppers have still functioned for the majority of their career with the same four-man line-up. Their impressive longevity as a live act and as radio staples has made the Peppers a band that similarly-minded rock groups seek to emulate themselves after. But the reason the Peppers’ music ever works (and it often doesn’t) is because the band is built from incredible musicians. The same can also sometimes be said of Ras Xix, the most recent RHCP-aping artist and album to come across my desk, but too often, this self-titled record is a dull retread of styles and song structures that we’ve heard before in better hands.
Most of the problems I have with Ras Xix become evident on the album’s opening track, “Weightless with You,” a song that aspires to sound like a b-side from either an RHCP record or an Incubus record. In 2004, sounding like either of those bands probably would have been a badge of honor for a new artist on the scene. Both were still scoring modern rock radio hits and had substantial fanbases, and the style of music they played was at the peak of its powers. In 2014, though, all of this sounds incredibly dated, and that fact makes "Weightless with You" a questionable opener. Part of the problem is the production, which aims for 1990s garage rock territory, but just ends up sounding amateurish in the least attractive way. Luckily, the song itself isn’t bad, with some interesting verse-chorus dynamics, a solid vocal performance from Xix, and a ripping guitar part with shades of influence from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. The fact that Ras Xix – not a band, but a multi-instrumental solo artist – wrote, played, and produced every note on the song at least earns him a commendation.
As it turns out, while Xix clearly wants to be the next heroic modern rock frontman, his most interesting songs actually come when he turns down the volume and explores moodier territory. Such is the case with “Nora 5,” a lush acoustic track that gives Xix’s impressive vocal range ample display, or “Simulacrum,” a dusky slow burn that actually does a better job of evoking the lovable sides of Red Hot Chili Peppers (think “Road Trippin’” or the title track from 1999's Californication) than the louder, more rock-driven songs on this album ever do. Unforunately, the album is so split between its electric and acoustic directions that it never finds a cohesive balance between them. The track list of the disc essentially goes “loud track – soft track – loud track – soft track,” with the softies scoring home runs (like the cello-laced “If It’s Gone”) and the louder or more rollicking numbers falling flat (as with the irritating vocal acrobatics of “Intergalactic Love Affair”).
Solo projects like this one, where one guy writes all the songs, plays all of the instruments, and does all of the production, they’re unique and interesting because of the DIY nature behind it all, but they are also often indulgent, repetitive, and directionless. As a member of a band, Xix would probably be invaluable, whether he decided to take the frontman role or sit behind the drum kit (in fact, his drum work is arguably the best thing about this record). As a solo artist, however, Xix seems blinded by his own ambition to do everything on his own, and the result is a record full of songs that frequently sound the same on most every level. It’s all crunchy guitar chords, similar melodies, and ringing vocal parts (often accentuated by identical multi-tracked harmonies), and it gets tiring. Maybe that’s why I like the acoustic numbers, because they are at least throwing something different into the mix. The fact that music like this hasn’t really be en vogue since Audioslave broke up doesn’t help matters either, but ultimately, Ras Xix fails to leave an impression not because the style is played out and not because its mastermind lacks talent, but because Xix just hasn’t figured out who we wants to be as an artist yet.