Sound — 6
RNDM is a new side project headed by Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament. Collaborating with Ament are the singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur and Seattle drummer Richard Stuverud, formerly of The Fastbacks and Three Fish, another of Jeff Ament's side projects. In a random way, Joseph Arthur met Ament in 1999 at a Three Fish gig and they kept in touch, not recording any music together until this album. This album was formed from a four-day jam session at Ament's home in Montana. All of these circumstances coupled together led to the band's name, RNDM (pronounced, as you can guess, random).
This jam album sounds expectedly unpolished. It lays a solid foundation, but I think it could've been expanded upon a bit more. The album features a very steady sound that doesn't vary much throughout the album. Ament's bass riffs impress me far more than Arthur's combination of triads (I think) and relatively clean lead guitar. Regardless of the truth, it seems like the guitars are trying to complement the bass with their relatively laid-back mood. In fact, this whole album exudes this laid-back mood. When Arthur uses his distortion, it has more of a 60's feel in that it sounds like a crackly clean sound instead of the modern heart thumping distortion. Arthur also uses an interesting array of effects including wah, chorus, delay, and flanger, though I think that they were overused and could've been more selective. Overall, Arthur comes across as more of a singer-songwriter than rock-and-roller, if that makes sense.
On a separate note, I found the drumming to be mediocre. Nothing came across as especially unique to me, and Stuverud's drumming didn't play an integral role in determining the feel of this album. Like most things on this album, the drumming didn't get in the way, but it certainly didn't contribute to making the album better.
In terms of production, well, there really isn't much of it. I mean, the production doesn't get in the way of the album at all but it wasn't seriously used as a tool to better the album, and make it more interesting, like with a Led Zeppelin album. However, this straight approach is a characteristic of the grunge movement, where the bands try not to be flashy and just give straight-up music.
In terms of individual songs, they seemed like a throw-stuff-against-a-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. The songs that stand out to me would probably be different from somebody else's opinion. I honestly enjoy reviewing albums song by song, but (don't shoot me for saying this) these individual songs don't have many defining characteristics.
That being said certain songs had memorable highlights. The first track, Modern Times, has a great guitar riff at the beginning of the song that is followed by a bass riff. The end of What You Can't Control has an interesting little instrumental section that does a nice job of summing up the main idea of the song. Hollow Girl can basically summarize the whole album for you in a pleasant way that will keep you interested, I hope. Being a hard rock fan myself, Look Out! really stood out for me with a riff that kept the song full, making me want to listen to it over again a few times. New Tracks appeared to me as the antithesis of the rest of the album. On this song, everybody's parts seem well planned and executed, with all of them working together in harmony to produce a uniform sound that made this song my favorite of the album. Throw You To The Pack was the most straightforward, clocking in at 1:41. To finish the album, Cherries In The Snow used a harmonica, an instrument left out from the rest of the album, making this song also rather pleasant.
Lyrics — 4
In terms of voice, it seems like Joseph Arthur is trying to be very similar to Eddie Vedder. Stylistically, I see them personally see them on different spectrums. Arthur has a very laid back/non-urgent approach to his vocals, with lyrics that attempt to tell a story or make a point, but are very harmless in the grand scheme of things. Lending itself to the laid-back approach, Arthur doesn't seem to vocally stretch himself at any point in this album.
Joseph Arthur is trying to have fun with the whole experience but I wish that this feeling penetrated better throughout the album, as more of a theme. Arthur is a good enough singer, but his voice doesn't particularly mesh well with the bass lines, which I thought were excellent. If you just brazenly listened to this album, like if you were thinking about something else while listening to the album, then this contrast might not be as noticeable. But, if you listen a little closer, you will notice the pounding bass riffs that you will then realize should have been used by Joseph Arthur to frame the songs for the better.
Overall Impression — 5
As a whole, this album comes across as extraordinarily average. I didn't really have any expectations going into RNDM's debut album. This album is a rung below Pearl Jam, yet it is unique in its own right for which I applaud it. Overall, the two JA's both brought a particular style to the table that resulted in an album that had points of harmony, and points where it was fighting itself. I don't think that the fact that this was recorded in four days helped any of the criticisms I listed in my review and considering the album's solid foundation, it could've been exceptional had more time been spent on this. I thought that the best songs on the album were New Tracks, Modern Times, and Look Out! There wasn't a worst song since many of them were of equal, average quality.
In the end, this album will mean the most to people who are already fans of the respective artists, who will get to listen to the fruits of a long jam session. For myself, this album won't have a permanent spot on my iPod, as will be the case for the casual listener. This album was interesting, but it's still just a detour from the next Pearl Jam album.