30 Nov 2015

RA! / Oh Unhappy Bella (album review)

Presenting themselves online as a seemingly anonymous arts collective, the now defunct suicide-pop outfit RA! only this week put their one and only album Oh Unhappy Bella up for online (and free) release. The full length article of a Southampton-based band that could have gone on to have substantial cult following, the release of their allegorical hourlong record should (if any justice is done) see RA! get the posthumous mythology built around them that the modern music press reserve only for the likes of Nick Drake, Joy Division and WU LYF.

Tales of depression, suicide and drug addiction, the subject matter of the record is - bar their space-age cover of Be My Baby – incredibly dark. The lo-fi wheeze of the title track speaks of the titular character “experimenting with medication”, whilst the fluff-on-the-needle noise-pop of lead single Lady Luck revolves around the motif of “cut the tissue, make it bleed”. Both intimate and distant, the songwriting is fiercely personal, and every single word that feels so heartfelt coming from RA!'s frontman's raw, raspy voice.

The main focal point of the record isn’t the songsmithstry or the depth of the lyrics though, because whilst it’s almost impossible to believe with the clean-yet-clangy guitars, the smooth drum samples and the intrusive synthesisers, this album is the result of a DIY-as-fuck bedroom project. Despite this, its musically so rich, seeing the bricolage of elements of everything great about alternative music; from the atomic synth parts of Liars, to the squeaky clean drum samples of DJ Shadow to the insular lo-fi pop of Galaxie 500 and Pavement; this album has all the right touchpoints, yet becomes something entirely different.

RA! craft a dystopic world of their own through combining their eclectic influences. No album released this year quite transports you, as the listener are put right in the shoes of Bella and her doomed lover; you feel the lusty youthfulness of Sugar in my honey’s eyes, you’re pushed into disconcerting lows and doubtful dizziness of the skits D-S=M and Poor Thing, and you get cut right open, deep in the heart with the album’s sprawling closer Our Fallen Church.

Although they’re no longer a band, Oh Unhappy Bella should serve almost as an artefact of DIY perfection sonically blowing the more perfectly polished world of indie music out the water. A perfect nugget of underground mastery that – if history is kind, and has any music taste – will be looked at in twenty years like we look at The Velvet Underground & Nico. “Only 40-odd people bought the initial run of Oh Unhappy Bella”, they’ll say: “but everyone that did was left gobsmacked by it.”


RA!'s one and only album is available as a free download from their bandcamp home page. We at vapour trail couldn't recommend it more as a record. CLICK THIS LINK to obtain and stream the album. Stream one song from it below... RA!'s electrifying version of Be My Baby

(written by calum cashin)