Reviews: Bambara, Caveman, Ishi

Anthony Mark Happel

Bambara, Dream Violence (Elemental Weapon)

The members of this Athens, GA trio are students of the Nick Cave catalog, as well as Swans and the mighty Jesus Lizard, according to their own proclamation, but their version of doing a noise rock “thing” is definitely its own brand of banging, clattering, scraping and grinding, and they don’t really sound like any of the aforementioned, for the most part. But they do come across at certain points like a little brother band that hasn’t quite ironed out all the rough spots, literally and figuratively. This album is a follow-up to their 2010 EP, Dog Ear Days, and they’ve also released a Kate Bush cover track and an improvisational EP. They’re definitely off their meds throughout the proceedings, presenting a dark vision via the physicality of the heavy music itself, and they’re also jittery and restless to the point of irritation. “Bird Calls” is wicked and sinister and belongs in the next Rob Zombie horror flick. “Hawk Bones” is club-footed and off-balance, largely unstructured, and damn hard to nail down. What they do is not metal, it’s not industrial, it’s certainly not darkwave, and it’s not exactly noise-rock in the classic 90s mold. So, what the fuck is it? And how do you comprehend a song like “Bar”? It’s a painful “acoustic” tone poem with distant, amorphous vocals buried within the “noise” of the song itself, and the emptiness seems to be a metaphor for the emotional emptiness of the album as a whole and the world at large. The several ghostly interludes hanging in the air give the entire album a haunted quality beyond all the cacophony, and beyond most noise rock records. This is some sour soup. Salvation could be close at hand.

Caveman, Caveman (Fat Possum )

“Where’s the time to waste on someone else’s life?” Good question and the theme of the day. This NYC five-piece is intriguing and frustrating. All the components for a truly miserable pleasure are in place: sadness, grayness, loneliness. But it’s also too chilly and distant to really resonate like it could at times. Recorded at the Rumpus Room in Brooklyn (great name for a studio), it’s an interesting band for Fat Possum to take into their camp. Their Interpol-esque presence on a few tracks is feeling a little passé now, but they appear to totally live in it and fully occupy it, so let’s give ‘em props for that. “In The City” is flat-out fucking excellent, with a simple, penetrating hook, and the vocals are more “lifelike” than on some of the other creepy undead-like songs on the album. The solid “Shut You Down” is also in that same vein. There’s an eerie post-R.E.M. element to some of this that took me a while to discern, but not in the same way that everything in the jangly rock realm was post-R.E.M. for about a decade. It’s not just Peter Buck-derived guitar stroking. This has a new millennial mash-up quality, but it still harbors the atmospheric college-rock spirits that existed in that crazy, hazy 80s/90s daze we somehow managed to live through. The second half of the album bogs down a bit, going more for mood food, almost like the Fleet Foxes at times. I hear the Shins at certain points, as well. Singer Matthew Iwanusa and his band can do refined post-modern rock quite effectively, and it comes across as mostly unforced and pleasurable, but they get a little too withdrawn on some songs. It’s not navel gazing, exactly, but they pull back and turn inward frequently when it feels like a song could go the other way, and that can have a chilling effect. I could liken some of this to American Music Club, but where Mark Eitzel and the fellas would go for the emotional jugular on a song and wrench it into submission, Caveman reels that in and buries the pain in quiet and passivity. That’s not a bad thing per se, but more bite would have been even more satisfying. It takes a few listens for Caveman to take root in your cranial garden, partly due to that chilly atmosphere, but it’s worth the effort once it does. They’re currently on a “short tour” that will have them playing a taxing cross-country span from Texas to New York to Washington state. Kids, in case you’re wondering, that is not how you book a tour.

Ishi, Digital Wounds (Internal)

This mechanical mash-up is surprisingly catchy, and the dance party barely ever stops, except when it briefly goes new wave on the very cool, mid-period New Order-esque “Moon Watcher.” The title track works its way all around the 80s dance-pop world and it eventually finds a connection with Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, among others. The melodies stay with you right from the start. And the last track, “Diamond Door,” rather cleverly never settles into any kind of predictable dance groove, and then out of nowhere it decays into an unreconstructed jumble that, ultimately, makes no sense at all. The album as a whole is elusively entertaining, but it can be troubling at times, and the tendency for some people will be to hate on this and to lose patience with the repetitive beat-driven over-processing, but instead of skipping ahead or fast-forwarding through a song because it feels too mechanical, you need to let it flow over you so you can really “hear” where the tunes inside the “songs” are going. Once I did that I recognized a sublime musicality existing just beneath the surface on most of this stuff, and that’s a rare commodity with this kind of music. One 80s masterwork that comes to mind is the minimalist first album by Our Daughter’s Wedding. Like that record, the artifice presented on the outside is not so important in this particular case. It’s the raw material inside that really matters.

Loveskills, Multiplicity (No Shame)

NYC producer Richard Spitzer has graced the dance music world with a 6-song EP that takes chillwave to another level. Post-dubstep, and dancing alongside Neon Indian and others outside the teendriven milieu, it’s catchy as a mofo right from the start, with “Cover Me” leading off like a hall of famer. Multiplicity is a sort of ironic title, as it turns out, and the remainder of the record illustrates why. The snappy, bouncy synths and overly-infectious beats could certainly keep you moving right in line like a good, little, brownshirted fascist youth. But, Spitzer also proves he can do slick and poppy on “Flash in the Dark.” And “Ex Flies” is post-proggy in a fuzzy, laconic, sad kind of way, which actually works out well in this particular instance. Then there’s “Generate,” which is just some really fine-ass dance-pop with some super-strong vocals, and the same goes for “We Say Love.” Falling into the trap of tedium with the 80s synth-pop reanimations is a potential hazard on this record, and any record like it, but Spitzer has things well in hand and totally under control, or so it would appear. He avoids the obvious pitfalls and plays to his strengths, mining the better aspects of that paradoxical decade and spinning them into his own new millennial gold. Play loud!

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