The timing of this reissue of out-of-print singles, compilation appearances and a three-song Peel session by the Louisville post-hardcore band Rodan is auspicious. Labels like Sub Pop and Matador have been canonizing ‘90s-era classics from their back catalog in deluxe reissue form, while band after band from that same period have been reuniting for well-attended tours.
That makes Fifteen Quiet Years sound like some sort of cash grab on behalf of the band. In truth, the reason this reissue held up this release until now was BBC dragging its feet on licensing the three tracks Rodan recorded for John Peel in 1994 to Quarterstick Records. The question now becomes: will the tastemakers of today give the band its overdue attention or will they continue to bounce in the wake of their already deified peers?
Fifteen Quiet Years actually makes a strong case that Rodan quickly catapulted their Louisville contemporaries. The earliest tracks here—demos of “Shiner” and “Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto” recorded in 1992—find the quartet still working within the strictures of the hardcore punk scene that inspired them to pick up instruments. The performances are agitated and quick, even when they try to scale things back to mid-tempo.
The rest of this album is the group becoming more assured and complex songwriters, letting parts play out for minutes rather than seconds and chipping away at already crumbling boundaries. A track like “Before The Train,” heard here as part of the Peel session tracks and in a live recording that comes as part of the digital download, needs all of its nearly 11 minutes to completely blossom. All three front-of-stage players—guitarists Jeff Mueller and Jason Noble, and bassist Tara Jane O’Neil—dance their lead and rhythm parts around one another in an almost teasing fashion. The volume stays steady with only the time signature in constant flux (the band’s three drummers were their consistent secret weapons), slowing down to a stately crawl about seven minutes in before rolling into the song’s original chugging pulse. In one song, Rodan lays the blueprint for the post-rock and math-rock universes.
It’s a small failing of Fifteen that it’s not sequenced chronologically. The singles and compilation tracks are mixed up at the beginning with the Peel session laid out at the end. The flow is there but it might have been more instructive to let new listeners experience how the band found and improved upon its distinctive sound before flitting apart in 1995.
The potential undoing of what could be a new appreciation of Rodan’s work is that the group is not reuniting in any form to tour in support of this reissue. That decision was made more out of unfortunate circumstances than coyness: Noble passed away in 2012 from cancer. Out of respect for him, the surviving members are letting the recorded work be its sole representative. That alone, as these nine tracks prove, is more than enough.