This month's prize for most elegant packaging goes to Raccoons. A beautiful, simple, letter-pressed sleeve that's held tight by a sole rivet, this CD packaging is near framable. Inside the fold-out sleeve are layered pages, delightfully laid out and full of concise descriptions of what Raccoons is and how it came to be. A limited edition of 500, the release features a deliciously sloppy imprint of a raccoon on the cover, its paint so heavy that you feel the wrinkly texture every time you reach for the CD. If you harbor a packaging fetish (speak up all you Shellac fans), this CD is for you.
Now, on to the music, which rivals the simple and elegant packaging. Recorded over the course of two nights in one member's living room, the three-piece band played into mics scattered about the room...and what odd sounds these mics picked up. Leading the charge is Hal Rammel on a single-string electric guitar that he modeled after a Vietnamese instrument called the dan bau. In concept, it may sound similar to the late Mark Sandman's two-string guitar, but Rammel doesn't go for the Morphine melancholy funk with his stick. Rather, he aims to grow more weird-ass sounds, from oddball scratches to alien groans. Rammel leaves the melodic work to his bandmates' acoustic and electric guitar work. Rounding out the trio is percussion that voices its scattered parts more than it provides a steady backbone to the tunes.
Atmospheric at times, cacophonous at others, these seven long tracks create a sweet, if occasionally challenging, ambience. Distortion plays a prominent role, but it's hindered and clipped, as if it's trapped in a box and can only belt out stifled quips here and there. More often the tracks are thin and sparse, such as when a drum rim rat-a-tats playfully along with found recordings dished up from a minidisk. Demonstrating the good and bad sides of all-in-one-sitting recording, the CD captures the essence of improvisation but forsakes direction. It's more like a happening populated by instruments -- some familiar, others exotic -- than a collection of songs. Unique stuff, to be sure.