The 90’s were a pretty memorable time for pop punk music. During the Fatwreck/Epitaph/Dr. Strange explosion, a whole heap of great bands came flooding in with a rev’d-up sound that had pseudo rebels doubling up on skate time and flipping the bird to trendy grunge radio rock. Sadly, once the flood gates were open, the influx of groups jumping on the bandwagon continued until the whole scene was oversaturated and left to drown in unoriginality. A style of music that was essentially formed with the intent to shun Corporate Clear Channel non-sense and things of the like ended up becoming the next trend in and of itself. Now, decades later, there are still remnants of that time in music with some of the pioneering bands re-entering the recording and touring life and handfuls of lesser known bands still chasing behind them. The only fundamental difference today is that the numbers are diminished and it’s not a trend anymore. …and I’m glad, because now I can sit down and listen to a band like Rayner and not be so quick to dismiss them as another bunch of posers with nothing to offer.
On their latest release titled In Circles, Las Vegas group Rayner serve up 10 tracks of 90’s nostalgia, and they do it without any sense of hidden “rockstar” agendas or high-school politics aimed at capturing the hearts of Hot Topic’s merchandising team. Instead, the band is clearly focused on just doing what they do….writing songs about their own personal politics.
The album opens up with a track titled Dreameater. With a catchy chorus, “I’m gathering dust here and I can’t seem to shake it…the room is spinning now and I’m feeling rather jaded…I’ll tip this glass and have another shot bartender…and drink this up for the dreams I still remember”, the band acknowledges that certain opportunities in life have passed and the only thing they know to do is carry on. The tempo is swift and the vocals are on-point as the band showcases most of its best elements including stalls & pauses, a breakdown, group chants (“whoa’s”), and call & response lead-vocal-trade-offs at the end for what is arguably the best song on the release.
Listening through the album, there is a heavily repeated theme of self-deprecation, regret, and failure. It is even evident in the song titles. For example, Forward Sinking, Failing with Style, and Reflections all deal with much the same subject matter centered around dwelling on a dispirited past. The message is that of: I’m screwed up, things are going nowhere, and I wish circumstances were different. Admittedly, I appreciate a degree of humility, but it’s almost excessive on In Circles. It would be great to hear these guys tackle a wider spread of topics and emotions. I know they can, and Second Son is a solid example.
While it certainly keeps with a “woe is me” attitude, Second Son is the most heartfelt song on the album from a lyrical perspective. Rather than singing in vague generalities, the emotions are directed specifically at an absent parent through familial dysfunction. Calling out broken promises and the failure to lead by example, the singer, Dany Henrriquez sarcastically admonishes, “…and I could hate you for destroying this home, but I wish you well with your second son!” This song is insightful, cleverly written, and…if I had to guess… it might be a telling glimpse of where some of the band’s overall disheartened sentiment stems from.
If nothing else, In Circles is consistent throughout. The vocalist uses some nice techniques to wrap word phrases around the endpoints of musical measures and cram in extra syllables where they are least expected. While some of the songs (particularly the slower ones) suffer a bit in pitch, there is never a shortage of sincerity. The instrumentation isn’t groundbreaking or particularly technical, but the performances are tight enough and the arrangements do a fair job of incorporating dynamics and keeping things moving along. In short, Rayner has all of the elements to a solid foundation on which to build. For a band that has only been together for about a year, they are definitely worth checking out. Put ‘em on your radar!
3 out of 5 SDP Skulls
Make sure you check out the San Diego Punk Interview with Rayner!
Reviewed by Todd Dulawan