Back in my college radio days, we used to get in these wild batches of promos from a company called Want A.D.D.S., which was run out of Los Angeles by a guy named Chuck Arnold, and primarily handled releases by bands and labels from California. Some of these records were so exceptional that they’ve stuck in my head for a long time – the first Comet Gain LP, for example, licensed by a tiny LA label called X-Mas Records (that’d go on to comp the Summer Hits singles on Beaches and Canyons). But the one that eluded me was by a San Francisco outfit called Rrope. The sleeve artwork and lack of much description – even proper song titles – concealed in plain sight a truly massive, churning guitar rock band, the work of guys who’d digested the oeuvre of Sonic Youth up through about 1993 and decided to start building from those parts on their own. “West Tone Song” and especially “OK Nic” were played on the air by me over and over, even after the single left our admittedly loose rotation. There weren’t the resources we have now, even though the Internet was definitely in place, so unless you found someone who knew these guys and was willing to talk to you about them, or you stumbled upon a winning description in some zine, that was basically it. I couldn’t find a copy of this thing, and was even more perplexed when a self-titled CD followed that seemed to give up on form so often that only “OK Nic,” reprised there, proved it to be the work of the same band.
And that was the last I heard from Rrope, until I got an email from Deathbomb Arc earlier this year regarding this release. We Are You There collects all of Rrope’s output – one full-length, one 7”, one split 7”, one double 7”, one comp track, and one EP, with a smattering of live material from the group’s final show, opening for Sonic Youth at the Fillmore in San Francisco, May 1998. Putting this thing together seems like no small effort, and with a 300 copy pressing, three LPs and a digital download automatically qualifies as a labor of love – that’s money which will most likely never be reclaimed. Not that it’s a bad or misguided thing to do; far from it, and we honestly don’t see enough work done in service of dead/forgotten bands that no one has really been clamoring for anymore. It’s just that Rrope satisfies both the side of ‘90s indie rock that was schooled in an orthodoxy of exciting dissonance, and the side that says you don’t need a riff all the time, or a song that holds together and does what we all believe songs should do, now that we’re in an age when the effort it takes to absorb something this big and specific to a time/place the listener may not have experienced is shortened to a blip on the continuum.
Featuring Crawling With Tarts guitarist Michael Gendreau, and a cast of Bay Area guys who have but a handful of musical credits between then, Rrope set out to experiment first, and let any roots of melody and tunefulness creep through the floor of that experiment on their own. For every “OK Nic,” there’s two blasts of tense, unstuck activity that would sound in place on one of those Swell Maps outtakes records, and We Are You There front-loads the listening experience with some of the band’s most difficult material, from their CD and the Mahagonny EP. These tracks reward as they see fit, but in the greater story of the band, they make more sense the more often you attack this collection start to finish; moreover, they unlock what separates them from contemporaries like the Thinking Fellers, whose power held sway to some degree here, and extended to their use of Greg Freeman for some of their recordings. By the time you get to the tracks from 1996’s A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever double 7”, you notice a detour into the kind of back-door, appreciated-only-out-of-time sentiments of wonder you’d find when, say, attacking the Slovenly/Overpass catalog. What Rrope really seemed to be reaching for was that elixir which would allow everyone to have a greater appreciation of the bands in the Bay that thrived on mystery and tragic turmoil, like the Sleepers or the Toiling Midgets, and give those ideas a rebirth into a new world where they’re treated with the reverence deserving of the forward-thinking artisans who made them. It may take some of you a lot more than you’re willing to put into the act of listening to a record to meet Rrope on their terms, but if you do, the inspiration and rewards just don’t stop. If this music can recalibrate any black metal wanker or straight-to-Bandcamp hometapin’ shoegazer who’s about to mess with Pro Tools and forever taint their musical upbringing in the process, then the work is done. No one wants to hear about history, but if it was from a source largely ignored and purposefully anonymous in their own time, what could it hurt? Besides, don’t you need a band that you don’t have to share with anyone else? Why shouldn’t it be this one? They were custom-made for that very purpose! (http://www.deathbombarc.com)