Prince Rama has rarely been a band you approach without expectation. They’ve been postured by the press, PR, and themselves as a somewhat enlightened entity. Whether that’s through repeated mentions of the band’s Hare Krishna/art-school upbringing (guilty), the mantra of the tunes, or literally directing an audience through yoga and Exorcise, the band has always been willing to share perspective. Even if Prince Rama has consciousness of something we don’t, it’s not one the sister duo of Taraka and Nimai Larson brandished at the audience like a koan—they’ve used their body of work as an attempt to edify others. But trying to share metaphysical secrets like Trust Now, for one, has meant there’s always been some kind of framework for the band to work around, whether religious, spiritual, or artistic. That being said, it’s a little strange it’s taken Prince Rama through four LPs to get to such a high-concept Concept Album.
Top Ten Hits of the End of the World is Prince Rama’s latest, their simultaneously most overthought and accessible record. Here the band channels ten different pop groups from the aegis of apocalypse for ten textured and often straightforward cuts. It’s 2012 Brooklyn synth pop through the lens of Now: That’s What I Call Music, a funny idea and one that gives the record replay value on wits alone. Prince Rama culls a shit-ton of different sources here, most often using a Middle Eastern tone pallete to sculpt dripping hooks and seething ambiance. It’s not pop in a structural sense, but sounds more so sonically as mainstream production tools broaden—it happens to be the same sorts of keys, synth, electronic beats, and drumming the sisters have been using for about six years now. Opener “Blade of Austerity” bounces through politically charged themes and a couple choice key changes with a sparkly Eurythmics vibe. “Those Who Live For Love Will Live Forever” channels a post-Crystal Castles “Vogue.” “No Way Back” uses overdriven guitars and Fenway Bergamont vocoder to mummify the listener. “Receive” sounds like Enya doing “Rite of Spring.” “Radhamadhava” and “Fire Sacrifice” recall Prince Rama’s previous plaintive best, with Nimai’s roto-toms chugging like talking drums under chants that bring to mind Amen Dunes. “Welcome to the Now Age” lopes a drowsy reggae guitar to ape adult-contempo Casio-accompaniment, ala a digi-modal Marty and Elaine. “Exercise Ecstasy” moves from upbeat dance and noodly guitar, via Thomas Dolby, to a caustic breakdown that burns with the heat of Portishead’s heaviest beats. “We Will Fall In Love Again” sounds like ABBA closing out the soundtrack of Megaman X.
From the imagined band names to the promo photos of each group the pair cooked up, this is pastiche of the highest order. And what better way to shake preconceptions of the occult or unapproachable than by flat-out announcing you’re writing pop hits? Even better, if Prince Rama has tired of their haunting past, they’ve created ten completely new identities for themselves—just pick and choose who you want them to be. Prince Rama has toyed with music as theater for a while now. Their live shows have at times held the band above their recorded material, based on underground danceclub cachet, heavy psychedelia, brute tribal drums, and exuberance for living in the moment. Elsewhere, when Taraka performed her Now Age manifesto at the Clocktower Gallery earlier this year, the reasons behind the band’s choices became willfully melodramatic –we were made to worship The Disco Ball. It was an engaging way to put forth a creative philosophy, one wherein the most relevant notion was that of Ghost Modernism. “Recent technologies have made the graveyard all the more accessible to the living,” Taraka writes on the topic. “The linear trajectory of time and all of its cremated entrails are sprayed across the vast fields of the World Wide Web, offering residents of this age a unique opportunity to experience multiple times simultaneously, never having to fully commit to one era or the next.”
Prince Rama has made no secret of their efforts to cull their identities both visually and sonically, pulling fairly deliberate pieces of cultures together to suit their need. This record is the epitome of that. But for all its cut-and-paste kitsch, Top Ten Hits of the End of the World sounds vibrant and fresh. And for all its giggles, the LP is still a deep read, a polemic on the flagging state of culture and its lack of meaning in spirit and heart. It’s at times meditative, often high-energy, and with an excellent through-line that rarely leaves the listener disengaged or disappointed. It’ll be interesting to see if Prince Rama continues to reinvent. Here, for all the identity crises, their sound has never crystalized with such grace.