In 2004, Gram Rabbit unveiled a debut album “Music to Start a Cult To.” The title was prescient.
Six years later, the Joshua Tree quartet indeed has a cult following — but, mystifyingly, only that. Despite having released two more albums of some of the most far-thinking, far-out psychedelic disco around, membership in the “The Royal Order of the Rabbit” is still modest.
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“Maybe it’s just a matter of the band expertly slipping through the cracks — the fanbase that is aware of Gram Rabbit is very much into it,” says Ethan Allen, the producer who’s joined the band. “Maybe it’s too pop for indie and too indie for pop, or maybe it’s the age of [music] distribution we’re in. But I don’t think it’s for lack of quality or innovation in the music.”
Stock up on bunny ears, because Gram Rabbit’s fourth album, “Miracles & Metaphors” (set for an October release), figures to have everybody hopping. The album — teased with this week’s release of “The Desert Sound” EP — sounds like the breakthrough desert-dwellers Jesika von Rabbit and Todd Rutherford deserve.
“Miracles & Metaphors” is part radio-ready rock record (and more cerebral than most of those) and part outer-space disco derring-do (and more twangy than most of that). It still minds the Gram Rabbit aesthetic — think No Doubt, abducted by wise aliens and returned to a remote locale in the Mojave (or as Time Out London opined: “Portishead on horseback”). But, the foursome’s eccentricities reined in ever so much, both the disc’s miracles and metaphors are better realized.
“It is a rock record, and I think we could have gotten a little rockier,” von Rabbit says. “But it has those spacey elements we love … more lush and desert sounding.”
The first single, “Candy Flip,” is vintage Gram Rabbit, the kind of banging electro-dance number that put the band on the map. “Party in the desert, party in the desert / Everybody wants to party in the desert,” is a chorus that could have appeared on any of their albums (after the 2004 debut, they released “Cultivation” in 2006 and “RadioAngel & the RobotBeat in 2007).
After “RadioAngel,” the band and its management split up, and the album foundered. “Creatively, we were getting the itch to make more music,” says Rutherford, so in late 2008 he and von Rabbit retreated to remote house at Rimrock Ranch, five miles north of Pioneertown, to write. The ideas from that session were brought into Allen’s studio, and some addition and subtraction later, “Miracles & Metaphors” emerged.
The songs’ themes vary from serious to pointedly whimsical. “Falling Debris” was inspired by a Black Friday trampling death by shoppers at a Wal-Mart; “Horses Can’t Throw Up” came from a book of “dumb facts” but is anything but; “They’re Watching” is a piano ballad prompted by the Patriot Act; and the album’s title is a chapter in the 1903 book “The Kinship of Nature.” Anyway, it’s clear Gram Rabbit aren’t just party animals; von Rabbit and Rutherford do some reading on those lonely desert nights.
It’s music for thinkers and revelers, and maybe that’s the reason the so-called music industry hasn’t latched on to Gram Rabbit and multiplied their reach.
“The industry has always been stumped by us,” von Rabbit says. “They don’t know what kind of box to put us in.”
“But you can’t give up because certain doors haven’t opened for you,” Rutherford says. “This band has weathered many a storm, and I think we’re in a good place.”
Says von Rabbit: “This band needs a miracle. We’ve got the metaphors.”
Top photo by Marina Chavez