The Rentals

The Second Return of...

Dec 04, 2014 Issue #51 - September/October 2014 - alt-J
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The Rentals' first album was called Return of the Rentals, released in 1995 when frontman Matt Sharp was best known as the bassist for Weezer. He might as well have saved the album title for today. Lost in Alphaville, The Rentals' long-awaited third album, comes 15 years after his last effort. Much has changed in the interim, with Sharp motivated more by different inspirations-occasional folky solo albums, a multimedia art project (2009's Songs About Time). But at least for now, The Rentals, as we know it, is back.

The creation of Lost in Alphaville was propelled by a few milestones. First was Sharp's taking the songs from a larger art project and earmarking them for a new Rentals album.

"I knew the songs I wanted to work on and put them in order," says Sharp from his home in L.A. "What opens the album, what closes the album, what comes second and third. Before we even recorded any of the music, I had the whole thing visualized and written out, including the album title. Then, it was like, 'Okay, now what does it sound like?'"

The second milestone was found working with The Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney, who provides drums to Lost in Alphaville. At the time he reached out to Carney, Sharp was envisioning what he describes as "a much colder record," with drum machines providing a more "science fiction sound." But after spending time in Nashville with Carney, things changed.

"That was one of the final things that helped really solidify the music of the album, the tone and the approach, the aggressive nature of it, and the dirty nature of it," says Sharp.

But the third milestone and coup de grace of Lost in Alphaville was Sharp's discovering the ladies of Lucius, who sing on every track on the album. Lost in Alphaville was all but completed, but Sharp was having trouble finding female voices.

"It got to the point where I was just about to jump off the San Francisco bridge, hard drive in hand," he hyperbolically asserts, when a friend pointed him in the direction of Lucius. "The second I heard their voices, it was like clouds parting, opera singers coming out, the whole thing. Hallelujahs in the background."

"He insisted that he meet us in person," says Lucius' Jess Wolfe. Adds Lucius' other female half, Holly Laessig: "So he literally jumped on a plane. We met and he played us every single song, and we were like, 'Okay, I can see that we can do something really interesting here.' It was unlike anything we'd been a part of before."

As a result, Lost in Alphaville is a perfect addition to The Rentals' catalog, taking Sharp's instinctive pop smarts, adding guitar and strings from Ryen Slegr (Ozma) and Lauren Chipman (The Section Quartet), respectively, and featuring the integral contributions of Carney, Wolfe, and Laessig.

"I wanted to make the definitive Rentals record," says Sharp. "I made the choices I made because I thought it would give us the best chance to do that. I don't know if that's what we did. You can never judge your stuff like that. It's not up to you, and who really gives a shit how you feel about your music anyway. But that's what we set out to do."

[Note: This article first appeared in digital version of Under the Radar's September/October print issue (Issue 51).

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