PHOTOS/WRITTEN BY: Vince Barreras
Bambara, the post punk/noise rock band from Brooklyn, New York, are back with their fourth studio album, Stray. Blending elements of post punk, and noise rock, the results are a loud and chaotic take on dark themes. Some have even dubbed the band “southern gothic,” which could work due to the band’s dark melodies, and also the fact they formed as a band in Athens, GA, while also taking influence from authors such as Flannery O’Connor. Singer Reid Bateh bellows out lyrics in the vein of a kind of Ian Curtis baritone style with subject matter being of death and destruction. Bateh sings these lyrics with such conviction, while maintaining a certain flow that feels almost like a hip-hop track, the lyrics flowing in a way that groove with the instrumentation. These songs read as short stories, each as grime as the last, but shows the brilliant lyricism of the front man, and creates a dark universe for the listener to inhabit.
The first track “Miracle” begins with a synth build up, combined with background drums and an ominous guitar line until Bateh’s hypnotic vocals introduces us to the title character: Miracle. She’s a dancer in a nightclub born to parents who abandoned her. She also has a tattoo that says “meanness” inside her lower lip. This track sets the tone for the rest of the album and foreshadows the bleakness future characters will experience. The energy speeds up on the following track “Heat Lightning” as its cinematic guitars and vocals talk about yet another character, Death, as he flies through the roads in his copper Pinto. “Sing Me to the Street,” another slow burner, features Death as a main character once again who claims two more victims, the murder of a man named Cole and a child who is drowned in a bathtub by their own mother. The pessimistic view of life is completed as the lyrics “Death will find us all” haunt the character. The dichotomy of this track is that the melodies and female choir vocal are quite beautiful, and as a word that will continue to be used to describe this record, are huge and cinematic with their southern guitar timbre ringing out behind the track, almost reminiscent of soundscapes one would hear in a David Lynch film. “Serafina” amps the energy back up with a fast, chaotic, and spoken word vocal delivery by Bateh, where we are introduced to two more characters, Serafina and Sadie. Serafina is an arsonist, who was in an insane asylum. The pair go on a destructive journey through Georgia, with no remorse other than satisfying their own desires. The track ends with a tribute to the albums theme as the lyrics, “We’ll burn and cry. We’ll never die” ring out, and the track abruptly ends.
The next two tracks “Death Croons,” and “Stay Cruel” bring the energy down an octave for a dreamier, and southern gothic sound, while bringing back the lush and dream-like choir vocal. “Stay Cruel” even features a trumpet, for a more dynamic breakup of the guitars and vocals. Again, although these tracks may sound sweet, “Death Croons” returns the character Death from the previous “Heat Lightning” and introduces him to a woman he meets at a bar. “Stay Cruel” is from the point of view of a person interacting with the opening track character “Miracle” and shows the man at a destructive time in his life to say the least.
The track “Ben & Lily” is also an eye-opening revelation as the two are presumed to be the parents of the aforementioned character, Miracle. Two doomed lovers, as Ben is later presumed to have died in a fire. “Made for Me” is a stripped back, dreamy track of a couple. With the context of the record, that relationship is doomed for disaster, especially with the lyrics proclaiming, “When Death comes driving through saying, “Son, take a seat.” I’ll say, “Only if you’re headin’ to the hell she made for me.”” After these last few tracks that have slowed down the instrumentation, “Sweat” picks up the energy in punk-like fashion with pulsating drums, accompanied by loud and spacey guitars ringing out while Reid Bateh hollows out lyrics of seeing a man by the name of John in his dreams, sometime after he died. “Death is what you make it but you’ll find out soon. No halo. No wings. Just seventeen with a sheen of nothing.” A chilling tale, not like the others previously found in the record. This time, we are shown the character in a night sweat having premonitions of death and what it’s like to die. The record comes to a conclusion with the track “Machete.” Probably one of the most devastating tracks on the record, the story of a neurotic man who can’t get over the murder of a previous love, as he tries to begin a new life.
The dystopian world portrayed by Bambara is intense, but also beautiful at times. The smooth and bombastic instrumentation of the members sees them fine tuning their sound from previous releases. It’s hard for artists to continue to up their game after years of putting together record after record but Bambara manages to not only do this effortlessly, but they deliver one of the best sounding records of 2020. The Brooklyn band continues to get better with every release, which only makes it that more exciting for fans of this sound. This is a band to look out for the next time they come to a city near you!
- Heat Lightning
- Sing Me To The Street
- Death Croons
- Stay Cruel
- Ben & Lily
- Made For Me
Bambara played at Boot & Saddle on 20 February in front of a crowd that was left in awe. Drummer Blaze Bateh was a madman on the kit and set the energy and momentum that the rest of the band followed. Reid Bateh bounced around the stage, slamming beer cans on the stage floor, and also the mic stands as he went through a track listing heavy on the new record. The concluding set ended with Reid coming into the crowd to share intimate moments with members of the audience, gazing into their eyes in a hypnotic way, but also with a deep admiration for all who showed out to watch the performance.