Out of Time
Approximately 762,048,000 seconds have passed since Gang of Four sang about "5:45," 620,352,000 since the Cure sang about what happened at 10:01, 793,584,000 since Blondie released "11:59," and 1,296,000 since the Strokes debuted "12:15." My Swatch broke in 1984, so those numbers may be wrong, but it's 2003 now, post-punk revival is counting down its last 15 minutes of fame, and Luke Jenner is running out of time. Still, on the Rapture's Echoes (DFA/Strummer/Universal), the 11th hour may never come.
"The hand is still," Jenner laments on "Olio," noticing that his own watch is broken. Now he doesn't have to pay seven cents a minute to chat up his paramour: "I called you up just to hear your..." he sings before Disintegration synths interrupt his hello. The word "voice" never comes, and maybe whoever he's phoning doesn't have one. As the lyrics focus on her small hands, her pale white skin, her incessant habit of ticking off his thoughts, sounding like "the time's pelting me," you start to suspect that Jenner's girl isn't of the flesh and blood variety. He can read her face so clearly you'd think she was a clock.
As the chronometer racks up numbers and Echoes plays on, history moves backward, from the machine dream of new wave to the coke crash of post-punk to the last days of disco. When the album was released, it was already a relic of the past: The Rapture finished the recording in June 2002, then delayed its distribution for more than a year while they considered various label offers. After it finally hit the shelves, the common response, It's about time, took on a double meaning. Echoes isn't just '80s faux-nostalgia for kids too young to remember an era when the name Robert Smith could be mentioned without raising worries about the Minnesota Vikings' ground attack. Rather, these breathless tracks are physics problems chalked on the inside of your skull, plotting their notes within the continuum of infinite points between each second. String the sounds together and there's still no trajectory. Each moment hangs with the next like pearls on a necklace. Time stands still.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven," the band chants on "Heaven," but then the elementary math just takes us back to square one, and everything on Echoes does what its title suggests. The manic choruses repeat ad infinitum, the melancholy house beats drip like leaky faucets, the recurring basslines move up and down against the rising momentum like a yo-yo in an elevator. This is what it sounds like to be forever trapped in a New York minute, to hear your life played out like a broken record. You can't get out: It's the peculiar claustrophobia of Brooklyn, where bathtubs sit next to kitchen sinks, where you can smell strangers' hair on the subway and suck the smoke from their lungs at the clubs.
That's the Rapture's particular genius: They play dance music for those of us who don't have room to move. For unemployed twentysomethings in Williamsburg, this palpitating pop evokes the post-collegiate predicament: When you're young and amphetamine-fueled with no way to expend your energy, paralysis breeds panic. Bodies pressurize like shaken sodas waiting to explode. At the end of "The Coming of Spring," no-wave guitar chords detonate with a squall that threatens to swallow every molecule in the room, and through the subsequent live applause, two women start screaming. At first, they yelp ecstatically like Brit invasion superfans, but as the track segues straight into the racing heartbeat of "House of Jealous Lovers," their whoops become shrieks. They sound like they're gasping for air.
And perhaps they should. Days get shorter, lives get longer and then they get shorter, too--better breathe while we can. One day, Luke Jenner will spend his Universal Records paycheck on Viagra and Lipitor, but as Echoes traps you in its dizzy loop, you give up pondering mortality to let your mind wander toward the old clichés: that rock will always belong to the young, that this moment will never pass, that the song will never end. And that before you can even decide whether to believe these things, your time is up.
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