THOMAS RAGSDALE “Bait” (This Is It Forever)

Disclaimer: I’ve gone back to the top of this review after having written it, and feel it’s necessary to add this note. Before listening to this album or reading anything about it, I observed the packaging. Perhaps it doesn’t travel well, but I was not impressed. In fact, I didn’t like it at all, and I still don’t. But get past that right now, everybody, because this tape is so good. So freaking good. Read why, read how. Love it along with me.

How to make me hate your tape without even listening to it:
1. Wrap the cassette itself in PVC tape.
2. Place tape in CDR sleeve, where it obviously doesn’t fit.
3. Wrap CDR sleeve in black lace which falls off super easy.

How to make me reconsider my initial turnoff in like two seconds:
1. “Oh, Thomas, you’re half of worriedaboutsatan? Why didn’t you say so, you crafty bastard!”

Let’s leave the packaging aside – which is, I gotta say, a total shame – and focus on the positive instead, shall we? Because the rest of this experience is entirely positive. Thomas Ragsdale is indeed half of electronic post rockers worriedaboutsatan, who have been around quite a long time at this point, since 2005 as a matter of fact. And in case you hadn’t noticed, their name bears a striking resemblance to a certain Mogwai song (“Mogwai Fear Satan,” you ninny), telegraphing one of their main musical inspirations in the process. And you know what? Anybody who cites Mogwai as an influence is OK by me. (Except you, Mooncake! For … reasons.)

Ragsdale’s Bait is a reworking of his soundtrack to Dominic Brunt’s teensy 2014 UK film of the same name. It’s mostly atmospheric and electronic, but highly cinematic in scope and tone, tapping in to grand capital-F Feelings and delivering remarkable capital-M Moments. Ragsdale seems to have a really easy time doing this. The resulting soundtrack is effortless, charismatic, and kinetic, something rarely encountered in film scores removed from their imagery. Part of that is the direction Ragsdale took in compiling this release – while the “album started life purely as a film score to … Bait,” he “re-opened the pieces … and started to re-imagine the whole thing as one complete album.” So rather than get bogged down in passages over which characters talk in a film, a pitfall many Hollywood scores can’t avoid once consumers take them home, the revisionist history of the movie soundtrack works as a decided strength here. Maybe that jagbag James Horner can take a few notes from Mr. Ragsdale.

I haven’t seen Bait, but according to synopses, it’s a crime film. With the style of music on display, one can easily make the connection to John Murphy’s score to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, wherein pensive, brooding post rock was employed to great effect in the face of remarkable violence. Here, Ragsdale plays it close to his chest with piano, keyboards, synthesizers, strings, and samples (I imagine at least, along with likely a host of other gadgets, gizmos, and wares both hard- and soft-). There’s even sort of an industrial breakdown called “When All Hell Breaks Loose,” five minutes of relative chaos worthy of God Is an Astronaut among the “arctic atmosphere.” But even there, the way out’s definitely just a snare hit away. It’s impossible to overstate – this is just a gorgeous collection. It’s something I’m going to wear out in the near future, I can tell. I might even try to check out the film, but there’s no way it’s going to live up to its soundtrack, and that’s not necessarily a slight to it.

--Ryan Masteller