Do any of you remember the old jukebox on Stonerrock.com (RIP)? At the time it seemed so cutting edge, but nothing ages like modernity, eh? The good people at Meteor City would upload a single track from each new album as it came into stock in the All That’s Heavy webstore, so over time the jukebox became the best legal source of free tracks from all sorts of weird, wonderful and downright obscure bands. Sadly, one track per album was all you got and getting hold of the releases once the webstore ran out was often a Herculean labour.
Anyway, I had a pleasant feeling of nostalgia when Rainbows Are Free came up on the list of things to review as I had fond memories of them from said jukebox (I suspect the shipping costs from the States were enough to put me off actually buying their EP) and hadn’t heard the name for at least a decade. It seems that they’ve been busy-ish in the interim, with Head Pains being their third full-length album, released in part by Argonauta Records (CD) and Horton Records (vinyl).
Ten years is a long time, so this refresher is as much for my benefit as yours: Rainbows Are Free are a five-piece piece from Norman, Oklahoma with a self-described sound that “appears on the rock n’ roll family tree at the point where proto-metal and heavy psychedelia shared a common apocryphal ancestor before branching off into their own distinct lineages”. Perhaps I’m being overly literal, but that had me expecting something distinctly retro and derivative, whereas Head Pains offers something altogether more individual and interesting.
Album opener The Sound Inside oozes a bass heavy tension that brings to mind bands from the turn of the millennium (I’m thinking Totimoshi, if that means anything to anyone) rather than taking you back to 1970. In fact, it’s a good distillation of the album as whole. Rainbows Are Free show an expert feel for building an atmosphere of tension and low-key menace, continually threatening to break out into something raucous and chaotic, but holding back and making the final release hit harder. Second track Electricity On Wax is the one that’s most redolent of the proto-metal and heavy psych from the press blurb. It combines an early 70s stomp with the sort of gonzoid vocals that were all the rage in certain circles circa 1969, but still sounds modern, fresh, and different from the hordes of bands looking to turn the clock back fifty years.
Rainbows Are Free show an expert feel for building an atmosphere of tension and low-key menace, continually threatening to break out into something raucous and chaotic…
After the excellent start, Rainbows Are Free hold your attention across the whole of the album. Shapeshifter was released as the taster track and is another excellent example of their slow-burning approach, building gradually to a satisfyingly heavy conclusion. Lady Of The Woods/Psychonaut follows a similar pattern, but with an entirely different feel. Beginning with some acoustic guitar and emotive vocals, it again builds into a righteous rocking finale. There are some shorter and more straightforwardly heavy tracks interspersed (e.g. Covered In Dawn and The Nile Song), although even here Rainbows Are Free manage to stamp their own personality on proceedings.
Head Pains finishes on a high note. A Penny’s Worth, combining 70s hard rock swagger with a distinctly 90s edge, is probably the most immediate track on the album and paves the way for moody acoustic closer Eunice. Closing with a downbeat instrumental track is something of an unusual decision, but, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, it works really well here.
I’ve been putting off writing this review as Head Pains is a difficult record to summarise. Whilst it brings to mind lots of different bands and different scenes from across the years, it’s got a very unique feel and never sounds quite like anyone other than Rainbows Are Free. It holds together as a genuinely coherent record, a good example of how to put an album together. There’s a satisfying mix of understated tracks that take a few listens to appreciate and some more immediate numbers. Definitely worth checking out.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc