Available on: Time No Place LP
Rainbow Arabia’s second album is a subtle triumph for the trio. Previously working within the vein of Italo-leaning synth-pop, Rainbow Arabia now align themselves with a strain of dreamy electro that has become more elegant in its execution, grandiose in its scope and with more overt cinematic ambitions (possibly thanks to the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive). A tall order perhaps, but FM Sushi pulls it off. Having recruited a third member in former Cursive drummer Dylan Ryan their sound has been comfortably elevated, and the percussion proves to be the anchor that they drifted along without on their debut Boys and Diamonds.
The whole dynamic of FM Sushi has something very Los Angeles about it, as the 10 tracks navigate wide urban spaces imbued with a lingering sense of dread and decay. It’s the sound of insomnia-fuelled drives past late night dive bars with a shoe box of old cassettes on the passenger side, smoke rising densely and restaurant windows casting the interplay of light and shadow as more sunset-tinged than sun-drenched. The vernacular is that of a post-countercultural, inner city jazz slang stripped down to an almost staccato temperament, then rebuilt with subtle layering of synth arpeggios and disjointed vocoder treatments that pay dues to the grainy ambience of ’80s synth pop. Swells of dubby reverb, loaded chord progressions and forlorn brass hooks grant moments of respite within an anaemic, claustrophobic mirth, and call on Rainbow Arabia’s enduring fascination with Tangerine Dream and early ’80s German electronic prog (think Dieter Moebius and Robert Schroeder) with a learned, rather than appropriative, quality.
This isn’t to say that the gloominess makes FM Sushi disengaging. Far from it. The LP is refined and well-balanced, with a mature tone and steady pace, and Tiffany Preston’s voice in particular is a delight. It’s not too dissimilar to that of Ruth Radelet from Chromatics, yet has its own wavering and uncertain timbre that makes her the ideal accompaniment to the other sonic aspects in play. She breathes furls of colour into the album’s more tonal elements, helping it avoid the danger of dissolving into a haze of mood alone.
Again, bringing in a drummer has bolstered their sound to marvellous effect. The driving kick drum of ‘Math Quiz’ steadies the sonorous saxophone and the brittle, searching sensuality of Tiffany’s voice, and ‘Thai Iced Tea’ and ‘Lacking Risk’ call on Italo disco with their layers of overdubbed drum machine melodies referencing ’80s cop show theme tunes. These reference points all collate on one of FM Sushi‘s best tracks, ‘Precreation’, where the group’s Depeche Mode crush intensifies to the point of giddy glee; then, as the squelches of ‘Silence Me’ pull the album to a close, Tiffany’s voice at its most confident-sounding, it becomes clear that Rainbow Arabia have come on leaps and bounds from their debut, releasing an evocative, vivid album beyond the expectations of most.