Posts Tagged ‘stereo embers’

Bastards of Fate and Tunabunny at Stereo Embers

Bastards of Fate:

Possibly the most challenging listen of all 40 albums on this list, the rewards unlocked by repeated spins are so rich and satisfying the word ‘ample’ barely suffices. Though one supposes that the gloriously inspired noise they make rather ensures a measure of obscurity, it’s nonetheless unfair. All the world should be basking in this Roanoke band’s mighty – and genius – oddity. Key track: “Winter of Our Discontent”


Did someone mention something about Athens rising? Oh, wait, that was us. Yeah, they’re coming in from all directions down there again. Not they ever really stopped, of course, it’s just recently it’s just kind of…gone boom, and there could be no better representative of the vitality of the scene down there than Tunabunny. In our review we put them in a league with Deerhoof. We weren’t wrong. Key track: “Power Breaks”


Tunabunny at Stereo Embers

Tunabunny records at #49 and #51 out of top 100 records of the decade!


Bastards of Fate at Stereo Embers

First things first here, the band. Believe me, they deserve massive credit and deserve it up front:

Doug Cheatwood – vocals

Camellia Delk – keys/vocals

Benji Pugh – guitars

Jason Jackson Welz – bass/vocals

Doug Shelor – drums/samples


What constitutes a ‘rock’ record these days? In fact, what’s done so for the last ten years? Or fifteen, or twenty, or..? Certainly as far back as the early stirrings of (true) prog and electronic music in Canterbury and Cologne, as well the template-twisting (and sheer willful) brilliance promulgated by messrs. Zappa and Beefheart and/or the hyper-intelligent weirdsville theatrics being unleashed in San Francisco (think enigmas, think giant eyeballs) the outlines of the old leather-jacketed rebel beast – now approaching 60 years old though its precise birth date is in some dispute – began to expand in ways challenging to fan and critic alike, taking on shapes that Alan Freed couldn’t have imagined even if someone had double-dosed his morning MJB. Inevitably such adaptability, that level of elasticity, leads to efforts so outside the generally-accepted rock-crit dimensions (however loosely drawn) that they’re by default defining their own contexts. This leaves us often in a field of two-edged possibilities – the ground being broken is either truly essential and furthers the art form, or it’s utter dog-bollocked duff – where those two edges can easily blur or even transpose and the poor befuddled ‘rock’ writer must somehow differentiate.

It’s utterly subjective, of course, where and to what degree those markers get laid down, and often – some might argue too often – what was initially considered a lumpen misbegotten self-indulgent fuck-off fest is, thanks to time’s magic wand of reappraisal, later recognized as the sprawling masterwork it always was. Still others have some measure of greatness instantly bestowed upon them that can trigger in many of us an emperor’s clothes response that, as it turns out, is frequently justified when, ten or twenty years down the road, the work reeks of the pretense of its time. Then there are those records that land with their own awkwardly gracefulsui generis thud that, even as it’s understood that they will clearly require a few spins to sequence its genome, one perceives via whatever intuitive antenna that a gem of some magnitude has fallen into one’s hands. Multi-dimensional, crackling with wounded wit, vast and confined, blessed with tonal idiosyncrasies that run the gamut from brash to playful to sinuous to shocking that, taken together, are moving on a deeply satisfying level, Bastards of Fate’s new album Vampires Are Real and Palpable is, most decidedly, one of the latter. This is a record that’s going to live with me forever, that’s never going to leave me. Yes it took a spot of cocked-head patience but it’s now taken up permanent residence, joining precious few others that sound nothing like it but share with it a blinding conviction – and binding cohesion – of seemingly fractured purpose.

Beginning with the rush of a train whistle that gives way to an intro passage of dolorous, skewed-sweet piano balladry and ending forty-four minutes later in a spell of dissipating static and a single wooden drumstick-on-drumstick tap, Vampires is a breathtaking record, not just for the scope of sonic adventure – we are swimming in some vasty deeps here – but, more impressively, how the LP, as a whole, singular piece of work, holds together as a breathing, fully functioning 10-track creature that seems preternaturally aware of its own existence (It lives!!). This is accomplished, most simply, by anchoring each track, no matter how noised up chopped up whim-bedeviled it might be, in a core melody streambed that the reptilian music brain finds impossible to resist. The record’s accessibility, in the midst of its seeming madness, is not just its saving grace (vampires, if you think about it, don’t need saving anyway) but the ever-budding mantra emanating in waves from the heart of the beast.

Before going any further please keep in mind that whatever level of descriptive prowess I’m able to dredge from the muddied banks of my excited little mind is but surface-scratching, that multitudes are buried beneath these songs that merit your most fearless spelunker’s impetus. Explore and be rewarded, a simple enough dictum but one seldom offered with quite the depth of quirk and exhilarating abandon as served up on Vampires. Let’s delve.

With themes such as transience, restlessness, and the difficulty inherent in basic human communication (among myriad others but the prevalence of bells and rings and whistles stand out as clarion indicators of – and cries of desire for – when our senses of connection to others had what seemed a more solid footing), this would not seem at a glance a cheery record but the slightest engagement with it uncovers serpentine strands of humor – sometimes gallows, often open but a bit oblique – and the prickly resistance that comes with it. And anyway, for all this record’s winged flights of disorientation, alienation, the dashes of mortal disappointment, it’s all ultimately won over by a stubborn beauty, a beauty that not only refuses to dies, you can barely see its bruises.

That opening track, “Winter of Our Discontent,” for instance. Past that train whistle and somber piano the song emerges from itself with an epic shanty grace into an immense roiling plea to the great emptiness that stirs the soul and surrounds on all sides, a glorious cosseting din, singer Doug Cheatwood exhorting “I found her, her majesty” before the thing resolves in a dramatic, horn-driven coda and a whorl of synthesized wind. A marvel of pop agglomeration, it’s a perfect introduction, not just to the aesthetic M.O. here – build upward, build outward, layer with a bracing panache and tie it all up with snaking, and whistleable, and immortal, melody lines – but as well the innate emotional streak running through the album, a streak best described by that four-letter word up there: soul.

“Identity Theft,” despite its title and the electronic gargling that introduces it, exhibits a harmonica-assisted swing that suggests that the Bastards southern roots (they’re from Roanoke, VA) haven’t been wholly abandoned even as the band quite often comes across as more of a darkly spooked prog pop mutant, Caravan gone well off the rails, Crack The Sky cracked beyond repair. Due the relative madness, however, the results are viscerally more human than any such comparison might suggest. “Own It” takes a Kinks-y vocal hook and transmutes it through some new kind of time-warp app into a piece of Bran Van 3000-styled ecstasy pop that in turn gets manipulated – check that; Bastardized – into a supreme mindfuck masterpiece. These songs, I’ll just say right here, need to be heard to be believed.

“Chromosome 1″ has Neutral Milk Hotel, under hypnotic duress, making a murky mess of an undiscovered Beck track that wakes up surprised to find itself exposed and blinking in the sunlight, the arrangement a disorienting hybrid of airy and claustrophobic, the intricacies spinning but nevermind since, again (and I realize you might get tired of hearing this if you haven’t already), the melody tucked inside it all would draw even the most obstinately skeptical aesthete into lockstep head-nod mode, it – like much of the album – is almost dubby that way, sneakingly narcotic. The poignant “Ultimate Death” finds a jagged-edged prettiness fighting through a slip-sliding chaos always lurking about the edges and easily winning, Cheatwood’s vocals at their most effecting, powerful and gripping before the piece collapses in a fit of exaggerated cartoon snoring and there’s that humor again, I L’ed OL.

Though at first blush bordering perhaps on excessive and seeming indulgent, ultimately the wild collage of noise and interstitial effects begins to present as necessary and integral, an extravagance of nature the tracks would seem naked without. Vampires is almost lavish in its excursions to the fringe and it takes a deft hand on a loose-limbed impulse to make this kind of balancing act work. Taking the outlandish and laying it as if manor-born around a sublime pop furrow, asserting what appears sonically nonsensical and making it as indispensable as a rudder in a rough sea, this is to grab command of the mysterious as if it’s just another everyday conundrum easily solved with an errant Catskills sample and a juddering, rippling wave of (jarringly sympathetic) sound. It’d be enough to drown in were it not for the unshaking songcraft anchoring the proceedings with an authority to die for and an incantation-like presence strong enough to raise the dead.

For further examples because maybe you don’t believe me there’s the creepy drawl of “One True Love” with its dizzying miasma of crowded atmospherics – veins of subtly unhinged synth, a carnival organ back there going mad, a menacing growl that comes and goes from god knows what depths – ambling along at a mostly funereal pace, is kaleidoscopically delicate and deliciously unsettling and ends up sounding like a prog ballad with a blues hangover, while “Credit,” another stab at complicated prog-pop, re-imagines Canterbury as a place overrun by robots obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, spiraling spidery melodies with over-the-rainbow hopes and an orchestral amount of mechanical tinkering crowding in from every perimeter. It’s beautiful, it’s brilliant, and, it must be said, is the music Flaming Lips should still be capable of making but apparently aren’t, neurotic but transcendent, intelligent but instinctual, emphatic but curiously evasive, like life itself.

I’ll set you up with a couple more samples then let you go so you can go buy the thing. Out of “Go No Further”‘s ramshackle laugh-tracked intro emerges a horn-stacked monster of an earworm supplemented by a passel of ooh-ooh backing vox, a popping tempo and Cheatwood pitching up higher in his range for a bit to unspool a tale of some cheery bad luck and lost horizons (“you got no further than the street you grew up on“), all swirled in the usual, not-at-all-usual mix of unforeseen left turns that by all rights should snap the listener’s neck but instead rather soothes in rough approximation of genius. And though I’m not here to play favorites (impossible anyway), a highlight has to be “Copilot,” a moment of great yearn under gummy skies, melancholia spiked with psychedelia – there are slow, sleighbell tambourines, poking synthesizer sympathies, a tempo as deliberate as a careful prayer; there’s a theremin, even – that in the end amounts to a type of cathartic pathos, as disturbing as it is gorgeous and that suggests the plaintive heights of such that Mark Linkous used to bring us to, though Sparklehorse, to my knowledge, never ended a track with a 2-minute organ-funked coda a la Booker T in wigged-out departure lounge mode. That sort of canny shenanigans, I believe, is the exclusive domain of Bastards of Fate, and you, my friend, oughta get in on it.


Muuy Biien at Stereo Embers

Put these two elements together: Rabidly exciting young Athens GA band Muuy Biien whose recently released second album D.Y.I. (on HHBTM Records) is either charming critics or terrorizing them (in the very best way, of course) with its mix of off-kilter ambient tracks fronting an all-out, relentless punkiness that sounds like Pink Flag-era Wire had they been unruly Southern punks (with all the drive and intelligence that implies), and rising Athens-based video artist and all-around punk cineaste Jordan Reyes, and what do you get? The new video for “White Ego,” naturellement, and CITC is very pleased indeed to present an exclusive first view of the results of this most brimming of collaborations, which, just so you know, may be NSFW. Roll film!


(formerly Caught in the Carousel)


Tunabunny at Stereo Embers

Some records press at you via the sheer force of dynamics, coming at you like feral jinns out of a dark and wooly wilderness. Some records press at you with a kind of ecstatic grandeur, presented by artists that may well be in their own version of a Sufian trance, firewalking into our heart. Some records press at you by the strength of their verdant imaginations, rife with vines and dancing snakes of coiled melody, with thatched arrangements that somehow manage to merge pulsing blood-red heartbeats with chrome-plated piston-strikes as if they were long-lost twins at last united. These are the type records that deal in outright sonic trickery, dishing out idiosyncratic complexities that flirt almost cruelly with their listeners’ ears and do so with what appears a casual ease. Some records capture us because every note augurs more good things to come, joyous even when they’re disturbing. Others take us in an all-encompassing, cumulative embrace, the wholeness of them – with intuition and forbearance, with a bumpy but sure grace – echoing the messy contours of human existence. These are records that don’t so much linger in our heads as install themselves in our psyches like an inchoate memory spawned in infancy. Kingdom Technology is one of those. Kingdom Technology, in fact, is one of each of these, assaultive in its way, seductive in its way, duplicitous charming secretive confessional fucked-up brilliant and swimming in surprise and treacherous delight.

Yes, it’s true, I’ve fallen in love with Tunabunny, once again forced to portray myself as a late party-crasher with stars and flaming zebras of adoration in my eyes (this is their third LP since 2010 after sharing sides with Hulaboy on a split the year before that). But, as always, I’ll take late over never and – also as always – rather quiver at the prospect of catching up to those earlier releases, the built-in advantage afforded the tardy that almost makes being deprived the last four years worth it. And if 2011′s Minima Moralia and the self-titled debut fall in expected line as developmental precursors to this record here, just now out on delayed release (another title pushed back by that bully Record Store Day), then indeed I’ve got some fascinating field trips in my future. Kingdom Technology is a fertile, daring, fully gratifying piece of work, a fractured masterpiece of rock pushed off its own deep end to startling and welcome effect, placing Tunabunny in a league with Deerhoof and precious few others. Let’s throw around some examples.

tunabunny image

Grounding the detritus of secret alien rituals in a thick swamp-gas no-man’s land of earthly terrain, “Airless Spaces,” with its modulated Outer Limits synth, the trundled thud of bass and drum and wordless, disembodied double-tracked voices (guitarists/singers Brigitte Adair Herron and Mary Jane Hassel), is space junk plowing through the silt of the river delta. In “Save It Up” we get the perfect pop song for an oh-so-imperfect world, complete with a toppermost vocal hook in the chorus that’ll do ya for days, a wink of a disco ball beat down the middle (heroic drummer Jesse Stinnard who’s also responsible for recording and mixing duties) and a constant treated bass insistence that eats woofers for breakfast – and lunch, and dinner – the track in the end an earworm that kind of actually is a worm, a meaty one with a phat slinky wriggle.

The bass tendencies on Kingdom Technology do tend to run to the brutal, and there are treated thisses and thats all over the place, flurries and flights of distracting noise peek in and out throughout and yet the album is never less than riveting, is always organically fascinating. The only price of admission is to be welcome to a challenge. The rewards are manifest.

“Power Breaks,” rising up out of what sounds like the inside of a cough syrup overdose nightmare, soon grows into a brittle, propulsive, catawampus thing that throws itself forward in a fearless synth drum tirade, Scott Creney’s bass frolicking around like this is some careening chimpanzee joyride, the song out of control except it’s never out of control. There is, without a doubt, something breakneck about Tunabunny which they play to their gasping advantage. They’re like Swell Maps on accelerants, sharing that sense of unrestrained free spirits let loose on their own skewed vision of rock’n’roll, only, at least on this record, the band exhibits what might rightly be termed a ‘well-regulated shambles.’ There’s abandon inside here but very little recklessness, nothing gets away from them. Moving on.

The criminally short “Good God Awful” is nothing less than the Fire Engines with an American accent. It’s followed by the slow systolic thrum of “Tête-à-Tête” that I suspect is what it sounds like hearing your host sing as you float inside their bloodstream – corpuscle rock – which in turn is followed by an almost sunny and certainly irresistible track called “Coming For You” that’s equal parts Pale Saints and Dum Dum Girls with a dash of JAMC if they were a 60′s girl group and is ripe picking for song of the month even if it, too, is painfully short (one could also call it a Scott Creney showcase, the bass a springy marvel) and that’s the kind of prodigious range we’re talking about here. The jumps would be jarring in less confident hands but on Kingdom Technology they come packed inside adroit and seamless segues, their connective tissue a slightly buzzy Tunabunny coating that shellacs each song in a claustrophobic intimacy one has zero desire to escape. “Empire,” meanwhile, is a beguilingly busy avant-pop collage that funnels a dizzy stew of elements – cigar box acoustic, disturbed strands of synthesizer that need professional help, tick tock percussion, even a damned Sinatra sample – into a glorious kitchen sink of a tune that against all odds you’ll end up singing to yourself over and over again and you really don’t want me to go on like this, do you? Because I could do this all day. “Bag of Bones” is urban tribal and darkly hypnotic – you might want to be careful with that one – “Chalked Up” is something akin to the Slits meet the Fall on the outskirts with, umm, added harmonica! And et cetera times infinity.

Thing is, there’s only one minor instance on this record where the band’s sense of adventurous meander gets the better of them and fails to pan out. “Not New Year,” with its murmuring bass, a sawing..something, and sibilant vocals in hushed declaratives wondering why the stars won’t come out to play before assuring us that “this is not a beginning,” needs a place to call its own and doesn’t quite find it, and yet I’d still choose to listen to that relatively – for Tunabunny, anyway – naff track than well over half of what I hear in the course of a normal reviewer’s lifetime.

And so will you. End of review. Buy it.


(Stereo Embers is formerly Caught in the Carousel)