Ralfe Band’s Son be Wise is a contradictory thing. A brooding, occult record driven through with pop hooks and fantastical shimmers. It’s somehow irresistibly danceable and irrepressibly dark. It’s one of those records that’s totally engrossing until it’s finished, when you feel you’ve only half-heard it, like somebody’s told you a secret at a noisy party. It has the sort of musical lifts that Belle and Sebastian has – a certain bounce at a certain time on a certain lyric that makes you prick your ears up and afraid you’re about to miss something else just as good if you don’t listen carefully.
More contradictions: this is a massively varied album, with all kinds of musical tricks up its sleeves. But it’s somehow never surprising, never trips us up. Instead we feel in safe hands, guided by musicianship that clearly knows what it’s doing. It feels relaxed, almost lounging. Ah, the piano bit, we think, or the synth-brass, or the bit where everything spreads out in the middle eight, as if we’d been expecting it all along. They sound confident rather than audacious. You can tell it’s a third album.
If I have a qualm about this record – and I do – it’s that it incorporates such a melding of influences, the overall impression is somewhat indistinct. Does anything make Ralfe Band different from their influences and counterparts? Perhaps the fairytale-folk power of Oly Ralfe’s lyrics. Or maybe the way this record reminds you that ‘radio-friendly’ is no bad thing. Or the way it makes its density seem so utterly comfortable. Ralfe Band can boast all of these things, but it chooses, for better or worse, to present them neatly and quietly. No fuss. Son be Wise is a record that even wears its darkness lightly.
Words: Tom Moyser