The defining characteristic of Raymondale and the Family Band is youth. The band looks young, sounds young and has lots of room to grow in their piano-pop sound. It’s no dig to them that they’re young; on the contrary, more power to them for figuring out what they want to do and doing it. But there are flashes of brilliance that are dampened by youthful peculiar decisions.
The piano pop here is of a stately, indie variety, as if Sufjan Stevens’ aesthetic choices were distilled into Ben Folds’ piano with Billy Joel playing it. RD Bonner (who is also Raymondale, both names I’m assuming as affectations of Raymond Dale) handles the piano and the vocals, Kiah Bonner holds down the percussion, and Alyson Bonner takes on most of the other instruments (trumpet, vocals, etc). The songs are dominated by pop piano stylings, similar to the way that Ben Folds’ piano dominates most of his songs. While the approaches are the same, the Bonners do a good job of not nicking Folds’ shtick. The closest they come to ripping off Mr. Rockin’ the Suburbs is on “For Her,” where the smooth piano line and the background “ahs” just scream “Fred Jones Pt. 2.” They kill the comparison by significantly altering the mood at the end of the song (and not really in a good way, unfortunately). But they are taking pains to distinguish themselves, and that’s a good thing.
The lyrics fall somewhere between the incredibly emotional tales of Bright Eyes and the incredibly detailed story songs of The Mountain Goats. “Rosa de Chiapas” details a failed attempt to cross the border from Mexico to America. “For Her” tells of a boy dying in a hospital before an girl can get to him from six states away. Highlight “God Bless You, Archbishop” tells of a South American peasant uprising. The lyrics are clever and interesting, if a little bit stilted at times by trying to cram too many or too few syllables into a line.
All of these parts together create the Raymondale and the Family Band sound: a wide-eyed, piano-heavy pop sound. There are harmonies, rounds, counterpoints, and more tricks up their sleeve. But they never fill the sound, as Sufjan does. The band is content to let the piano carry the band, and that sets them apart. The songs don’t always flow perfectly, as there are odd jumps and mood shifts occasionally, but it’s the sound of a band discovering its own sound. It’s not a sign of incompetence; it’s a sign of overshooting their experience at the moment. Raymondale and the Family Band want to be great, and they’re gunning for it hard.
Some bands are scattered as a way of life. Some bands are just scattered on this particular pit stop as they get their things together. Raymondale and the Family Band is definitely the latter. The melodic quality and aesthetic ideas of this band point toward great things for the band, even if it’s not exactly all together on this release. I would highly recommend Consider the Birds to any fan of piano pop, as RD Bonner is going to be a name that you hear more often, with or without the Family Band. I hope that he sticks with it and gets the success he (and the rest of the band) will soon deserve.