Album Review: Ralfe Band – Attic Thieves

There’s very little about Attic Thieves that isn’t in some way perplexing. Firstly, there’s the name, which brings to mind pesky bandits making off with people’s lofts in the middle of the night. That’s nothing compared to the music, though, which sounds nothing less than a collection of American porch-front songs transplanted to a haunted fairground. You wouldn’t be unduly surprised to hear any of the album’s twelve tracks issuing from a malign speakerbox in some surrealist horror film. 

Oxford-based Olly Ralfe and Andrew Mitchell’s follow-up to 2005’s Swords is not short of atmosphere, then: all woozy organ and skeletal percussion, it’s a faintly discomfiting experience. With slightly off-key melodies being matched with similarly off-kilter lyrics, musings apparently touch on everything from crumbling ruins to teenage brides and gin. “The robots are searching the palaces” seems to be one such offering, although it’s not always easy to tell. While such kookiness is initially charming, Attic Thieves sometimes seems to tip over into parody. How much this is intentional is hard to fathom – the band themselves describe it variously as “blackly comic” and a “surreal swamp” – but the impenetrability also ends up making the album appear less diverse than it really is.

Genuine highlights – the sing-along chorus of ‘Helmutsine’, the ruin-invoking ‘Mirror Face’ – are choked by the near-ubiquitous Wurlitzer and the queasy, cobwebbed vocals, meaning individual songs struggle to stand out. Perhaps the soundtrack analogy isn’t a bad one; as atmospheric background music, it’d be perfect. After what feels like the fourth spooky waltz with lyrics that may or not be about bones, though, it’s all started to feel a little tired.

Words: Matt Elton