The line between precocious and intolerable is fine, but even if it were thick, studio geek Rafter Robert’s solo debut, Music for Total Chickens, would stand squarely on the side of intolerable. The tedious album is oversaturated with bright colors and squiggles, and its playful potential quickly devolves into the indie-rock equivalent of the kid at the public swimming pool who insists his mother look at every cannonball he attempts.
Veering from dyslexic math rock to wide-eyed electro-folk, Music for Total Chickens was ostensibly created as a musical self-help treatise, filled with eighteen quirky junkyard bon-bons, predominantly with tidy one-word titles and blink-and-you-missed-it lengths. Rafter (who’s produced for such acts as Rocket from the Crypt, Black Heart Procession and Castanets) exhorts his listeners to “pay close attention to the monsters in your life” on “Monster” or to “hold your hopes up high again” on “Hope.” In his defense, selfï¿½help books are often nauseatingly trite as well-at least he stays true to theme.
Sonically, there isn’t much room for improvement. Music for Total Chickens generously incorporates wind-up-toy drums, urgently scattered guitar strumming, distortion, detached cool-chick choirs and other “fun” indulgences that get more tiresome with every blessedly truncated song. Rafter’s sound is a hefty side of Lightning Bolt, a bit of Tortoise, and some of that one-man-band street performer who you occasionally give money to, mostly because you think he may be mentally ill and wonder where he spends his nights.
Significantly more grating than last year’s 10 Songs, Music for Total Chickens showcases Rafter on a depressing slide toward self-conscious masturbatory art. Perhaps the clearest example of a similarly frustrating recording by a clearly talented musician is none other than the Fiery Furnaces’ Rehearsing My Choir (an album Mr. Roberts had a hand in mixing, incidentally). Both albums deserve a token of recognition for having a bracingly original voice and a creative spirit. But the disconnection between intention and achievement in both cases has left us with a pair of novel failures, and no self-help book can make it any better.