Promoter: Radical Production & La Boule Noire
One thing you won’t be able to avoid on Bambara’s “Stray” is death. It’s everywhere and inescapable. It would be wrong, however, to characterize the group’s fourth album as simply a dark and gloomy affair. The sonic landscape is varied, showcasing the band at both their heaviest and most nuanced, while the lyrics quickly go from the sublime to the surreal. It is undoubtedly their strongest statement yet.
Bambara – The Bateh brothers, Reid and Blaze, singer / guitarist and drummer respectively, and bassist William Brookshire – have been evolving their midnight-black noise into something more subtle and expansive ever since the release of their 2013 debut “Dreamviolence”. That process greatly accelerated on 2018’s “Shadow On Everything”, their first on Wharf Cat Records. It was a huge stride forward for the band both lyrically and aurally.
The concept album was rapturously received by the press, listeners and their peers. NPR called it a “mesmerising… western, gothic opus.” “Shadow On Everything” also garnered much acclaim on the other side of the Atlantic. Influential British 6music DJ Steve Lamarcq dubbed them the best band of 2019’s SXSW, and the UK band Idles invited Bambara to join them on their first full US tour after sharing a bill in Brooklyn. The question was though, how to follow it?
To start, the band did what they always do: they locked themselves in their windowless Brooklyn basement, to write and rework songs Decisions were made early on to try and experiment with new instrumentation and song structures, while not being concerned with how the tracks would be performed in a live setting. Throughout the songwriting process, the band pulled from their deep well of creative references, drawing on Leonard Cohen, Sade, classic French noir Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud, as well as southern gothic stalwarts Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews.
Once the building blocks were set in place, the band met with producer Drew Vandenberg in Athens, GA to record the foundation of “Stray”. After recruiting friends Adam Markiewicz (The Dreebs) on violin, Sean Smith (Klavenauts) on trumpet and a crucial blend of backing vocals by Drew Citron (Public Practice) and Anina Ivry-Block (Palberta, Shimmer) the band convened in a remote cabin in rural Georgia, where Bateh laid down his vocals.
The finished product represents both the band’s most experimental and accessible work to date. The aforementioned backup singers create a hauntingly beautiful contrast to Bateh’s drunken baritone on tracks like “Sing Me To The Street”, “Death Croons” and “Stay Cruel”, while the Dick Dale inspired guitar riff on “Serafina” and call-and-response choruses showcase the band ability to write hooks.
Now, while the music itself is evocative and propulsive, a fever dream all of its own, the lyrical content pushes the record even further into its own darkly thrilling realm. If the songs on “Shadow On Everything” were like chapters in a novel, then this time they’re a cohesive set of short stories. Tales of doomed and tragic love on tracks like “Made For Me” and “Machete”, are coupled with stories that are both terrifying and darkly humorous personifications of death as someone who both enjoys sugary treats and collecting the remains of his victims in the trunk of his car.
“Stray” represents another monumental leap for Bambara. It’s an album that deals with duality, in the music and lyrics. It is vast, atmospheric and cool – it’s also the band’s most life-affirming record yet.