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Real Hair
CD Album 2003 | Silber 028
8 tracks, 42 minutes
$12 ($18 international, $5 download (256 kbps, ~76 megs))
: Listen to the track Girls Hugging Trees
: More info
Track Listing:
Girls Hugging Trees, 66 Deadhead Spies, Starling, Mike's Hind, Hecho En, Spine Delay, Bara, Eight Inch Nun
This album is staggering in its creativity, even though it's probably the most pop-focused of Rollerball's releases. They bring the funk influence, which has always been lurking, closer to the fore quite tastefully, with propulsive drums and full-bodied bass inspiring movement, but the highlight of their music is definitely the super-catchy lyrics and melodies. Stabbing, anthemic horn leads and smoky piano lines accompany their vaguely dadaist cabaret vocals, singing seemingly lighthearted verses about clarinet samples and our forefathers wearing drag, but the sense of tension that their dramatic presentation inspires is remarkable. Rollerball's little details of organic experimentation and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink noisemaking are still present in some form, but they're more tightly woven into the songs themselves, such that the album is full of interesting sounds throughout, but free from gratuitously tacked on elements. Still, this is a far cry from the extended free-noise of their earlier works. Tracks like "66 Deadhead Spies" and "Starling" play up the loungey aspects—shared male/female vocals and slick piano instrumentation; while a steady bassline anchors "Mike's Hind," the sole instrumental piece, as various sound effects and improvised phrases float through the mix. "Spine Delay" seems to be a shout out to all dudes in the audience with its deranged, at times hyper-falsetto, singing, until the horror-movie organ emerges and the band settles on a mellow groove. The album ends with a suitably incomprehensible spoken word piece about nature. Rollerball are an entertaining and interesting band, and it's great to hear further development of their refreshingly unique pop music.
~ Steve Smith,

This album is a real delicious mindblower, at first I thought I'd put Tom Zé on by accident, but it's just part of the wildly diverse aesthetic of Rollerball, to have incorporated elements of tropicalia in their genre hybrid mix of sounds and influences. This Portland band are hard to pin down, but imagine Slapp Happy sending tart valentines to Can by way of Sun Ra. Dub Housing Pere Ubu doing grooves with Volcano the Bear and setting fire to their hats, or Piano Magic jamming with Carla Bley. Shape shifting through free jazz, improvisation, funk, gypsy reels, woozy mariachi, male and female vocals, sci-fi dub, organic electronica, punchy extraterrestrial soundtracks, hallucinatory madrigals, and some sort of smooth futuristic pop. Easily one of the best albums of the year.
~ George Parsons, Dream Magazine

Rollerball's Real Hair is one of those recordings, like Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising and "The Monster Mash," which reminds me of Halloween each time I hear it. I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing it has to do with an overall creepy atmosphere and lyrics like "Like all your friends, they're there to bleed." That line comes from the first track "Girls Higging Trees," and it's right after the line "Sun was blocking out the church sign today/thank God," which might be another clue to the devilish feeling of the album. Those lines are sung in a weirdly gothic tone, but I can't say for sure that Rollerball wear all-black and worship Satan. These are slippery folks, too tricky to hang many judgments on. Drums, bass, piano and horns are the dominant instruments, but they don't always use them as you might expect. Their music is a form of jazz-inflected midnight-mood pop that has an arty distance about it, yet they're always out to surprise you, getting moodier and more minimalist here, slipping into a marching-band funky stroll routine there. On one song they'll conjure up the ghost of Miles and on the next they'll sound like folk music from some long-forgotten place (Translyvania, maybe?). On a song called "Spine Delay" one member of the group even breaks out an off-kilter, sort-of rap about fairies and palaces which feels completely out of the blue and then melds into an organ playing church music. Real Hair ends with a song called "Eight Inch Nun": the title sounds like it should be on a Dr. Demento compilation, but the song itself is a haunting, meditative piece of music with an intriguing poem read over it. What's the deal with Rollerball? I can honestly say I have no idea what they're up to with their music, but I like it. They confuse me, but sometimes it's good to be confused.
~ Dave Heaton, Erasing Clouds

Just when I think I have those merry pranksters over at Silber figured out, they somehow manage to spring a new one on me. At first, I thought they were a drone-oriented label (thanks to Aarktica's stellar No Solace In Sleep). But they've veered off into minimalist soundscapes (If Thousands) dark-ambient pieces (Kobi), more drone (Small Life Form), folk (Rivulets), industrial (Clang Quartet) and even a wee touch o' goth (Lycia). And then along comes Rollerball's Real Hair, which carves out its own unique niche in Silber's catalog.
Just as with Silber, there's a sense of unpredictability about Real Hair. When you think you have the album figured out, the band seems content on frustrating your expectations. And that starts with the cover art, which, with its typefaces and pink hair, made me wonder just what the heck I was getting into.
The album's first 3 tracks are darkly orchestrated pieces that traipse about just beyond the periphery of !!! and Out Hud's albums like some tattered gypsy caravan or danse macabre. While nowhere near as spastic and hip-shaking as !!!, there's an undeniable sense of rhythm and groove that could get toes tapping and heads nodding (just listen to "Girls Hugging Trees"' mariachi horns and grunting bassline)... or send shivers down your spine, Pleasure Forever-style. These songs possess a murky, almost cabaret-esque atmosphere, courtesy of the serpentine pianos and accordions and strange lyrics ("I forgot the taste of cold, sanitized steel") that haunt the songs' corridors.
However, "Mike's Mind" sounds just like the title implies, a wandering journey through a clouded mindscape littered with smatterings of trumpet, snippets of piano, and scattered drums; altogether, it sounds vaguely like Supersilent's work on the stunning 6. On the other hand, "Hecho En" slowly unfurls itself in the finest Do Make Say Think tradition. Female vocals float lazily amidst undulating accordions, billowing horns, and sparse percussion... before suddenly morphing into something the Volga boatmen might hum as they march alongside the River Styx. And even that disappears within a cascade of sad, wavering notes that, despite sounding somewhat out of place, nevertheless add a haunting touch.
"Spine Delay" dishes out the album's most bizarre moment, a quasi-hip-hop collage that sounds like Soul-Junk splicing together their own version of Beck's "Midnite Vultures". However, that lasts all of 2 minutes before giving way to murky organs, shuffling drums, banshee-like feedback, and more cryptic lyrics ("Spine delay/I sway/And I shimmer down to my knees").
Even after all that's transpired on the album so far, "Bara" still might be the album's most schizophrenic song, alternating between drunken uproars in which pianos, horns, and drums sound fully intent on crushing every bit of china within reach, and moments that sound almost Out Hud-esque with their pulsing electronic synths and rhythms. The electronic, uptempo moments are more interesting, and as such, I find it hard to get into the song as a whole simply because I never know how long it'll be before the song grows surly again.
"Eight Inch Nun" ends the album on a rather restrained and calm note... or so it seems at first. Over another mercurial soundscape of scattered drums, wordless vocals, and droning horns, a low voice recites the album's strangest, most cryptic lyrics - picture a cross between medieval alchemical imagery, socio-political commentary, and stream-of-consciousness psychedelia (a sample: "Elaborately framed portraits of multi-cultural lovers, tongues entwined, genitalia serpentine, and sprouting the luckiest four leaf clover in the world/It is beautiful all engulfing fire"). As with much of Real Hair, it doesn't make much rhyme or reason, and yet can be captivating and intriguing.
Still, as much as I like to be kept on my toes by an album, I have to say that I much prefer the moments on the disc when Rollerball exhibits more focus. While I enjoy the more bizarre and abstract sounds that are sprinkled liberally throughout the disc, Rollerball is most successful when they can take those abstract sounds and work them into a more defined, song-oriented context. When they do so, the result (such as "66 Deadhead Spies" or "Starling") is all that much stronger and more captivating because of it.
~ Jason Morehead, Opuszine

"Girls Hugging Trees" starts with a grand-but-forboding horn-section, then the tight rhythm section kicks into a groove and this vocal line: "The sun is blocking out the church sign today". I don't mean to be melodramatic, but I want to say that this heralds another album's worth of serious absurdist-surreal lyrical imagery and semi-depressing avant-progressive/jazz dirges. And it's great stuff.
"66 Deadhead Spies" follows with an erratic-yet-composed RIO-ish style, with awkward Henry Cow-ish time-changes, Cutler-type percussive agility, piano and freaky synth. "Starling" is a fairly dreary bit with dub-bass, brass-section, a psychotic avant-jazz meltdown and a chorus that sticks in the head, provided by one of the group's women (of which there are a few). "Mike's Hind" is the album's token psychedelic freak-out jam, similar to the last album's "Butter Fairy", but shortened - a creepy bass-line, crawling drawn-out single-note horn lines like something from Zappa's '68/'69 squonkers and grooved-out drum-fills with whispery cymbals. "Hecho En" is a slow dramatic accordion-led march with more great melodic (though never cute) femme vocals, and there's an apocalyptic theatrical feel with the lyrics refering to the land's natives and the prancing, cross-dressing, intruding white men.
"Spine Delay" starts with a quite strange and surprising hip-hop opening, though the rap is backed by tripped-out 'tronics and wacky horns. It all segues into another somber, dare-I-say, depressing dirge, this time with co-ed vox. "Bara" comes on like some crazed scary Faust freak-out, goes into soft spacey keys and another co-ed vocal proclaiming amusing, somewhat twee lines about a trans-global horn-playing couple sampling each other... then the doomy Faust bit comes on again. "Eight Inch Nun" ends it all with a super-cosmic trance bit (not refering to the electronica sub-genre) with more sustained-note trumpet, deep echoing drums, general ambience and a spittle-miked male vocal that usually makes me want to tear something or someone to bits, unfortunately. Just an arbitrary pet-peeve, I guess.
Anyway, this album grew on me like some scummy urban Portland lichen. If I were to get academic on you, I guess I might say: (leaning back in swivel-chair in an office, literary bookcase in background, fingers connected to form a triangle, bushy beard): "Rollerball... keeps the irony of their lyrics, titles and imagery in check... with the seriousness of the music itself. Could appeal to college/indie-rock people, progressive types and the freak scenes between."
~ Chuck Rosenberg, Aural Innovations

After eight albums of jazz-infused post-folk droning, Real Hair sees Rollerball moving towards more conventionally structured songwriting.  It's a bold move, and it proves to be a wildly successful one, showing a band finally becoming interested in communicating their ideas to an audience.  Rollerball's earlier studio albums have teetered on the brink of self-conscious pomposity, sorely lacking the humor & directness of their live shows.  It's good to see them loosen up in the studio as well, braving the conventions of space-y art-folk.  There are enough traces of their former albums on here , but the true gems are the discomforting doo-wop neo-folk of songs like "Girls Hugging Trees" and "Starling," wonderful tracks showing both the constant evolution and the disconcerting stability of a band always searching out new directions.  The male/female vocal interchanges, the tumbling percussion, the saxophones and clarinets pushed to the front all go together to create some of Rollerball's most focused, controlled work to date, without losing any of the band's inherent playfulness and open-endedness.  Rollerball has, perhaps paradoxically, expanded their scope by focusing on more conventional songwriting, proving able to retain their playfulness at the same time thy're approaching the parameters of established folk-rock structures.
~ Stein Haukland, Comes With A Smile

Let¹s put it simply: Real Hair takes Rollerball to a new level. This album manages to retain the lo-fi/experimental feel of earlier efforts while being better produced, better written, and more sharply focused. Studio experimentation is still a major feature, but it is now embedded in tight rock songs that blend lo-fi/noise rock, alternative, ska/reggae, and avant-prog elements. "Girls Hugging Trees" opens with a delicate trio call from accordion, saxophone and trumpet, before "Mini Wagonwheel¹s" bass riff kicks in. Once the melody enters, it becomes obvious that Real Hair is a few steps ahead in terms of arrangements than any previous Rollerball album. "66 Deadhead Spies" has at its core a very nice piano melody, its slight quirkiness allowing for strange developments to spiral out of its medium tempo. "Eight Inch Nun" has the slow pace and foggy improv feel of a Supersilent track. "Starling" adopts a reggae feel, making good use of the group¹s small horn section, and the song sounds like it could hit the airwaves -- until all hell break loose in the bridge section, where the horn section tears the cue sheet, shredding tonality to pieces. These are only a few of the delightful quirks in Real Hair. Each piece holds its surprises, but the biggest one is to find the group in such top compositional shape. That and the fact that they pull it off without ever compromising their edge. Essential American alternative rock.
~ François Couture, All Music Guide

Rollerball is one of those bands that I've always enjoyed a great deal, but never came around to exploring as much as I would have liked to.  This is actually the ninth full-length release from this Portland, Oregon ensemble & although having not heard everything from their back catalogue, this is easily the most structured work I've heard from them yet.  But fans of their slightly deranged jazz streaked expeditions don't need to worry because we get plenty of sax, trumpet, & clarinet blare mixed with gurgling synth & spacey keyboards, but to tell you the truth there's just as much accordion, piano, & Amanda Mason Wiles' angelic voice to latch on to.  The use of accordion & keys provides an almost cabaret feel in a Jeremy Barnes kind of way, but just like with Jackie-O Motherfucker, previous label mates on Road Cone (which sadly has ceased operations), Rollerball is all about organics, texture & surprisingly sonic gestures.  Add to all this the occasional drone, samples, hip hop beats & deep audio experimentation & you know we're in for an adventurous jazz listen.  This is jazz for the ones who enjoy staring at the sky, exploring the space from a comfortable distance.
~ Mats Gustafson, The Broken Face

Portland, Oregon experimentalists Rollerball reinvent themselves from one release to the next, if not from one day to the next, as the band—who live together—play, innovate, and record together in their basement studio.
Formed as a power-pop quartet in Bozeman, Montana back in 1994, a move to Oregon led to the exit of founding member Herman Jolly who went on to front Portland band Sunset Valley, and to a wholly different sort of Rollerball—jazz, classical, and noise-rock influenced and led by cofounder Mae Starr.
Each Rollerball release is an art project, with the discs usually appearing in strange, beautiful, and sometimes hand-painted packaging. Real Hair is Rollerball’s new full-length, and while it comes in a relatively pedestrian jewel case, musically it is as expectedly unexpected as ever. This time around the band often sound like Calexico jamming with Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 on the set of a David Lynch film.
Even Rollerball fans might find this one a touch difficult, though, with subtlety the operative theme. This record offers abundant power and humor but these are visible only deep below a quiet and gentle surface defined by lots of horns and accordion and impressionistic poetry. It’s moody, dreamy, and... subtle.
But ya know, at the end of the day that’s all good because it means that this disc was built to endure. Many, many listens have proved that true for me.
There are often enough unique musical motifs throughout the course of a Rollerball record to fuel several new art bands, if not entire genres. Listen well to Real Hair and don’t be surprised to hear its themes reappearing over the next few years from various quarters. It’s out now on the band’s new label, Silber Records, based in Raleigh, North Carolina and home to an eclectic roster that includes Origami Arktika, Small Life Form, Pale Horse And Rider, Clang Quartet, and Jamie Barnes.
~ Rockbites

El manejo de las trompetas al inicio de "Girls Hugging Trees" así como la voz y en general el track le dan un extraño mood casi oscuro al inicio de este material de Rollerball, que de entrada con el uso de todos los instrumentos indica música a la que debería ponerse atención.
El disco aunque extraño, resulta interesantísimo. A veces la sección de viento (trompetas, clarinetes) llega a generar sonidos casi cacofónicos que por momentos podrían desquiciar y sin embargo, Rollerball los hace caber en su música.
"Starling" llega a tener un sentido retro, gracias a la voz femenina (sin saber si es Mae, Amanda o Madame)
Escuchen los sonidos que le arrancan a los vientos estas mujeres en "Mike's Hind" con los sonidos sincopados y casi desafinados, en ocasiones del piano, como para oscurecer el ambiente. La batería y el bajo realizando su trabajo eficientemente, como a lo largo de todo el disco. Interesantísimo track.
El acordeón aparece como instrumento central en "Hecho En", un track que se despega un poco del resto, de nuevo gracias a la voz femenina y en este caso, al mismo acordeón. ¡Cómo saca sonidos y partido de sus instrumentos cada miembro de la banda! Uno de mis tracks favoritos del disco. Pongan atención al cambio en la segunda mitad del track... ¡muy bueno!
"Spine Delay" lo hace de nuevo manejando samples, sonidos, sonidos ambientales y distorsiones de los instrumentos (escuchen la introducción del track). Después de los desquiciantes primeros 2 minutos, el track entra en un ambiente casi religioso (pongan atención a la modulación de las voces), para finalizar de nuevo en una cacofonía a base de distorsiones que son capaces de manejar dentro del track sin que salga de balance.
En "Bara" la banda recrudece más su post rock, arrancando en un experimento que luego a base de voces trata de llevar por otros rumbos, acompañados de teclados y el siempre buen trabajo de la sección rítmica, pasando por experimentos sonoros y vocales (incluídos sí, gritos desesperantes).
"Eight Inch Nun" finaliza con un sonido entre industrial, post,  experimental, de performance (con todo y monólogo), todo un misterio, interesante y perturbador a la vez.
Una banda que habrá que seguir y revisar su evolución.
~ Ciro Velázquez, Eufonia