“Breathe, breathe in, Breathe, breathe out,” begins “Racktom Disaster” – the opening track of Portland band RILLA’s debut EP I Am Not a Robot – as it quickly brews up its unique blend. The young band’s riff-heavy mix of riot grrrl punk with uber-trendy surf rock guitars spins hard, but never out of control. From the opening track through the five-song EP, the players manage to display their instrumental magic with aplomb.
The poppier melody of “Side Sleeper” is a throwback to the late-nineties that feels harmoniously now, with a beat that is a bit more dance friendly in a swingy (as opposed to mosh-pit ready) way. The ladies of RILLA are clearly working within the vein of Vivian Girls, early Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, with a nod to surf-rock compatriots like La Luz and Habibi. It’s an interesting combination.
The lyrics throughout are almost overly simple, poignant refrains that don’t elaborate on a story. They capture the essence of the one thing you meant to say but didn’t, the self-reflecting 20/20 hindsight. “Tella Beach” has beautiful guitars, vocal harmonies, and a beat that feels near-electronic. It’s a bit sentimental, washing over you intimately with its repetitive lyrical refrains, the tempo landing in you in a windswept reverie. And then there are those twangy guitars that spin out brilliantly at the end.
The upfront vocal strength on “Nevermind The Hurricane” is a fresh twist, and the instrumentation drives harder, showing off the quick-change song structure. The closing track “Julius Seizure” takes a stab at malfunctioning relationships with a super-fun punk speed, crashing cymbals, and a strong bass line. The shouted cry of “You should’ve said something!” makes for a strong finish.
For an initial release, the record feels complete – rather than sticking to one structure or tempo, it offers up a diverse sampling of what the band can do. RILLA plays to the northwest scene well, delivering to both a proven riot grrrl history and the current sceney expectations.
(I Am Not a Robot is available to purchase for just $5 via RILLA’s Bandcamp page. You can stream the release below.)