Ransom And The Subset’s debut album ‘No Time To Lose’ celebrated a wide spectrum of pop/rock influences, and with the help of power pop heroes Ducky Carlisle and Brian E. King, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist RanDair Porter created the kind of debut that felt timeless in its own way. The release didn’t really connect with a massive audience, but was well received by those who actually heard it, setting strong foundations in place for a timely follow up.
The years rolled by, and that expected follow up never came. It would take RanDair eight years to return with a new batch of songs. Over the following eight or nine years since Ransom first made in roads into a career, the power pop landscape shifted and changed: King’s Oranjuly project reinvented themselves as the more distinctive Parks, before seemingly disappearing; Fountains of Wayne split following the death of Adam Schlessinger; Ducky Carlisle, too, seemed to vanish from the recording side of things, but in reality kept himself busy as a studio engineer. Could RanDair and his band actually make their mark after so long away – and in a different world, both socially and musically? As always, the proof of his talents would be in the material itself, as opposed to any commercial success, and ‘Perfect Crime’ certainly doesn’t skimp when it comes to sharing some great arrangements and vocal hooks. The album comes with a retro feel throughout, but in this case, that’s certainly no bad thing.
Tapping into the upbeat and sunny, ‘Sara Kandi’ instantly marks its place among the best Ransom tunes via a shiny rhythm guitar and a barrage of handclaps. With this solid backdrop, RanDair builds a brilliant world of retro pop where new wave keys meet with crashing drums, and a strong vocal sounds jubilant above a relentless four four beat. The effect of hearing this for the first time is like discovering a Fountains of Wayne deep cut, or being allowed to hear one of David Myhr’s demos. Whichever way you slice it, it’s great pop. The same goes for the easy ‘Left Her At The Shinkansen’, a number that blends a perfect power pop core with a country-ish twang. It’s very smooth, even from an AM radio throwback perspective, but its buoyant rhythm, optimistic melody and steel guitar solo lift the arrangement to give the album a genuine standout. It’s here that Porter’s easy knack for mixing genres comes to the fore, and like Adam Schlessinger’s best work, there’s no feeling of anything being forced, or of those country elements being shoehorned in – it just works. The first listen to this pair of tracks is enough to suggest that ‘Perfect Crime’ has real treats in store, but subsequent spins cement it as the kind of record that’s also a real grower.
Moving further into the realms of AM radio pop, ‘Bring Him Home’ comes loaded with 10cc inflected harmonies over a stabbed piano line that’s pure 1975 (the year, not the band). A perfect tribute to a power pop past where the retro heart beats furiously, the assembled band sound really tight, while the production values hover somewhere between smooth and pleasingly DIY. Although the core influences are obvious, you can still hear Porter’s own slant on the arrangement through the odd filtered vocal or two, and in many ways, this is his power pop call to arms – the Ransom equivalent of a tune from the Oranjuly catalogue, or a nod towards David Myhr’s ‘Soundshine’. To hear it once is to love it. ‘One Last Thing (Leaving)’ requires a little more patience on the listener’s behalf, since there’s a little too much of a soulful feel to the verse to be of immediate interest to the average pop fan. That said, there’s a nice tune here; the vocals are great, and the smooth harmonies on the chorus invoke a perfect retro feel. In time, it’s clear what Porter’s intentions were, since there are hints of Ace here beneath the sheen, and the aforementioned chorus vocals explore a sound that’s the musical equivalent of a hazy summer. After a few listens, it’s clear that the track’s only real fault comes from the album’s sequencing – ‘Bring Him Home’ is an impossible act to follow.
In a change of mood, ‘Fast Car’ presents a new wave sound where muted guitars stoke up a fast riff, before a rocky chorus calls back to the noisier elements of Gigolo Aunts. Even with a wobbly vocal element or two, it’s the kind of retro sounding track that genre fans can really cling onto. It’s a little noisier than pretty much anything else on this record without actually being noisy, but there’s a genuine spirit to the rollocking riff and harmonious hook that ensures it holds onto the same kind of positive vibe that runs through the bulk of the LP. Blending the noisier factors with far more of a pop backdrop, ‘Don’t Remember What Was Her Name’ is power pop 101 in so many ways, but for the genre fans, a world of harmonies, handclaps and a wordless middle eight will be more than enough to entertain. Sometimes “catchy” is all you need…and the same goes for the title track that takes bits from Fountains of Wayne, The Posies and other power pop giants magpie style, recycles them with chopping guitars and even more handclaps, offering something that sounds like a call back to the debut, but played with more confidence. There’s little here you won’t have heard before, but it’s no less enjoyable for its easy, familiar feel. …And if, somehow, you came looking for something a little different, ‘Time A Tunnel’ is happy to oblige with the help of a bassline worthy of Graham Maby and a sharp rhythm that’s almost a new wave take on a funk tune. There’s even an occasional tip of the hat to Steely Dan in the way the rhythm guitar wants to add something jazzy too, but eventually, more of RanDair’s usual tricks flesh out the sound – particularly on a harmonious chorus. Despite settling into a great pop track, this definitely has designs on being a little quirkier than the Subset norm.
This isn’t a perfect record by any means, but the best bits of ‘Perfect Crimes’ are fantastic. The record plays as a solid reminder of both the sheen that made the debut enjoyable and of a songwriter who’s able to turn his hand to various different elements of rock and pop with ease. The eight year wait was lengthy, but clearly that time was well spent and it’s spawned an album that deserves every success. Word of mouth mightn’t be the fast track to that, but in this case, it’s the best route to reaching the ears of those Posies, Fountains of Wayne and Bleu fans who are the most likely to take its best songs to heart.