In Hindu cosmology, Rama is an ancient king and one of the 10 incarnations of the supreme deity Vishnu. In his life, Rama had to survive 14 years of exile and defeat his wife’s kidnapper before being crowned king, at which point he ushered in an era of peace and harmony. Rama’s tenure as prince, then, is the troubled time preceding his ascension to the throne. That serves as a nice entry point for Prince Rama, made up of three former art students, two of them sisters, who grew up on a Hare Krishna commune in Florida, now live in Boston and Brooklyn, and created the newest release by the Animal Collective-affiliated Paw Tracks.
In fitting with their religious backstory, Prince Rama makes the sort of psych that believes it’s actually part of a religion. This is holy music, full of chants and mantras partly sung in Hindi, all driven by loud and constant percussion. It’s frightening and intimidating. Few of the song titles are in English, but when they are there’s a small repertoire of subject matter: “Thunderdrums,” “Storm Worship” and “Lightening Fossil” say as much about the tone of Shadow Temple as anything else.
This is not a fun trip, per se — much of the tone comes off somewhere between Animal Collective’s Here Comes the Indian and Amon Düül — but it’s definitely a trip. File this next to Om and Comets on Fire in your “music to get high by” playlist, though there are a few moments of clarity amid the tempest. The bass line of “Lightening Fossil” is reminiscent of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” until unearthly chants and moaning rise and take the song someplace else. Moments like this are when Prince Rama are best: they can build a driving beat and let it ride, a lesson from krautrock that should never be forgotten. At their worst, though, their psych manipulations are overwhelming, crossing the line from mystifying to alienating, which seems to totally miss the point. It’s already loud and disorienting, and venturing too far down the rabbit hole of religious hypnotism just makes parts of Shadow Temple unmemorable.
Any talk of cultural mimicry in art is probably a waste of breath, but by the same token that three art-school kids from Florida mining South Asia for influences isn’t a novelty, it also isn’t a deal-maker. That is to say, it’s not enough to just play hypnotic psych that’s heavy with incense smoke; you need to make it mean something. At their best moments (and under the right influence), Prince Rama accomplish this, and they truly tap into something primal and spiritual. But all too often Shadow Temple falls short and is flat out boring when it should be actively engaging. It took Rama 14 years to rise to the throne and bring peace and harmony. The band members need to do more than this if they want to if they want to outperform their namesake.