Prince Rama’s absurdist personas have always been more fascinating than their druggy, drone-y music. Brooklyn sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson were raised within a Florida Hare Krishna commune, and, as their press materials boast, they’ve also “written manifestos, delivered lectures from pools of fake blood, (and) conducted group exorcisms disguised as VHS workouts,” all on the way to being signed by Animal Collective’s record label Paw Tracks (AKA the only label weird enough to encourage this kind of off-putting mania). Meanwhile, their live shows have earned a polarizing reputation—somewhere between an indulgent community theater performance and a tribal séance.
With their sixth studio album, the fascinating and fascinatingly stupid Top Ten Hits for the End of the World, the Larson sisters continue spiraling down that rabbit hole of creative insanity, flaunting an off-the-wall conceptual framework that would make for a better B-level horror flick than an album: Top Ten Hits is designed as a post-apocalyptic musical souvenir, a NOW-styled compilation of 10 fictional pop songs recorded by 10 fictional bands—all of which perished tragically in the 2012 doomsday. For example, there’s Taohaus, a German electro-goth duo who recorded in a monastery formed in a rotting tree (They were incinerated during a lightning storm), and Hyparxia, “computer-generated band” that crashed and burned, along with the universe itself.
The concept itself is creepy, kitschy fun—but are the songs any good? Yes and no. By developing these fake backstories, Prince Rama have expanded their sonic playbook, adding a much-needed jolt of playfulness and eclecticism to their brooding, arty textures. “So Destroyed” (as performed by Rage Peace) is a surprisingly coherent mish-mash of Arabic pop and bass-driven disco; “Receive” (as performed by Taohaus) is more in line with the duo’s typical tribal-goth playground, but it’s also one of their most arresting moments, as digital hiccups and booming tom-toms build in intensity toward a proggy climax.
But Prince Rama are a piss-poor pop act, even when they’re pretending. “Those Who Live for Love Will Live Forever” (by I.M.M.O.R.T.A.L.I.F.E—thanks for making me type that) mingles brittle programming and cheesy synth-bass with a dead-end, glazed-over hook—sort of like “Tainted Heart” after a handful of Ambien. On the pointless “Welcome to the Now Age” (by Hyparxia), you can practically hear the Larson girls giggling their way through the pre-set Casio electro-pop arrangement.
Stripped of its clever concept, Top Ten Hits for the End of the World can be apocalyptically bland.