Just when I was ready to declare that indie-rock was fresh out of surprises, along came Athens’ Reptar, a quartet of misfit college drop-outs whose debut EP, 2011’s Oblangle Fizz, Y’all!, was as dementedly unhinged as it was dementedly catchy. To say they did things their own way would be an understatement: Mingling laser-beam synths, Afro-pop hooks, Jock Jams chants and monstrous drumbeats, they made weird fun again, even if the mania only lasted a half-hour.
The seeds of Body Faucet, the band’s debut full-length, were sewn from a chance encounter: Producer Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, Washed Out) originally stumbled upon one of their notoriously party-like live shows and offered his studio skills on the spot. Allen’s certainly a trendy choice as of late, and he offers the band focus and depth—polishing up their rough edges and toning down their wildest eccentricities in favor of rousing group symmetry and sparkling clarity. Body Faucet shows signs of artistic growth and maturity, yet never at the expense of funkiness. But with a band like Reptar, “maturity” is dangerous territory. Can they survive a downgrade in quirkiness and emerge, uniqueness intact?
Yes and no. Body Faucet is an improvement over Oblangle in nearly every respect, but it’s definitely not as surprising as that lovely little EP. On Body Faucet, most songs climax in their zip code of origin, and there are fewer sonic detours and weird little layers that peppered their earlier tracks (like the ecstatic “Blastoff”). That being said, what they lose in unpredictability they gain in consistency and muscle. Allen adds heft to Andrew McFarland’s already massive drum kit and Ryan Engelberger’s joyous bass; meanwhile, frontman Graham Ulicny has apparently been listening to a lot of Vampire Weekend, his cartoonish tenor and reverb-splashed guitars undulating in affable Afro-pop circles.
At its worst, Body Faucet is an ice-cream headache: too much of a good thing too quickly. A few tracks (“Houseboat Babies,” the slightly vague “Three Shining Suns”) feel like oxford commas in an ocean of exclamation points—but everything else is grade-A killer, from the dance-y sexual awakening epic “Sebastian” to the horn-punctuated, Graceland-on-acid anthem “Please Don’t Kill Me” to the psychedelic and heartbreaking fever dream “Ghost Bike” (which vividly depicts the action and aftermath of a child’s bike-bound death),
So what if Reptar aren’t as surprising as they used to be? They’re better.