The way Rays’ debut kicks off, with the warbling, mutated jangle of “Attic,” is a perfect scene-setter. It recalls some of the key themes of early post-punk; if punk stripped away all the fuss and pomp of ‘70s rock to its bare essentials and set it at warp speed, post-punk bands drilled further down into the dark core of psychedelia, to all the bad drugs and isolating cults beneath the swirling colors. “Attic” is rickety in that same way, with a woozy synth line and Eva Hannan’s spiraling vocals taking us up there. It brings back the childhood dread of seeing that unstable little ladder pop down from the ceiling at a relative’s house: why is the way to the attic hidden? What dusty, shadowy secrets could be up there?
This is the territory that Rays explore—though you shouldn’t expect any of those secrets to be made explicit over the course of these 11 songs. Where punk can be didactic, post-punk works best with lyrical bones, letting the listeners, like forensic specialists, follow the story back themselves through clues that might not seem obvious at first. Rays, of course, know punk and post-punk so intimately these tropes are second nature to them: Hannan, Stanley Martinez, Alexa Pantalone and Troy Hewitt have been/are in more excellent bands than one can count (Pang, The World, Violent Change, Life Stinks, and so forth), and they genuinely sound like they’re having a good time with one another here. That’s especially evident when they’re working with the existential dread of everyday life, as on “Attic”; other tracks in that vein, like “Drop Dead” and “Pain and Sorrow,” sound positively ebullient in much the manner of the best Fall songs, curdled with wicked delight. Master engineer Mikey Young (of Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, etc.) brings this quality out perfectly; the album sounds, essentially, like a well-recorded live performance, rather than an airless studio artifact.
Rays’ debut is, thus, a very good document of a very good band, and its restraint is part of what makes it special. This isn’t a band that could come out of the gate hard; these songs work so well because they hang together so laconically, belying the tension beneath. If they went full bore, they’d fall apart. These songs’ subtle construction and delicate equilibrium are necessary.