THE ROOKS - From The Shelves of Soundscape Studios

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Of all the melodic guitar pop underground bands to gain a following in the ‘90s, the Rooks were perhaps the least in touch with modern music, the hardest to fully understand and get into, and the most strangely alluring.

All this means that the Rooks were missed, and continue to be missed, by all but the most devoted of pop listeners. Their name alone—with its connotations of intelligentsia, fantasy, and history—should be enough to convey their sound. They can be pretty dense, and they certainly don’t sound like a product of 20th century New York. If power-pop existed in the medieval times, it might sound a bit like the Rooks.

But that means that those who sink a little time into the band can find an act that really doesn’t adhere to many conventions, a rarity in the power-pop world. Granted, they do use the Beatles as a launching point, but their jangly arrangements, which incorporate flutes and strings, and Michael Mazarella’s warbly, poetic vocals, make the Rooks seem something like the Smiths of American power-pop.

From the Shelves of Soundscape Studio is an exhaustive trip through the band’s vaults, dragging out demos and unreleased cuts that grant insight into the band’s creative process. Given that the band is prone to massive gaps between proper albums (their only two full-lengths came out in 1994 and 1999), such a compilation is a welcome appetizer while fans wait for the next main course.

Of course, if all this description tells you anything, it should be this: From the Shelves of Soundscape Studio is not for the casual fan, and certainly not for someone who doesn’t already own the other Rooks albums. While many of these versions are revelatory, sound crisp and clear for demos, and display some of the band’s influences more openly than their own records do, this is in no way an introduction to the band. Like most collections of demos, the disc includes a lot of “not there yet” material, but it also includes snatches of conversation, small experiments that never made it past a single try, and unfinished ideas. Fans will drool over this, but it doesn’t make for a flowing record.

But again, that’s not who this is for. This is for those people who are waiting—and probably will be waiting for awhile yet—for another Rooks release, because they couldn’t get enough of the band’s albums and EP’s and singles up until now. And on that level,From the Shelves of Soundscape Studio dishes out 18 sweet, delicious treats.