Brooklyn-based post-punks Bambara are different in every way. Not only do they blend sounds in unconventional ways, their distinct use of literary narrative mixed with surrealist elements create unique imagery worthy of exploration as well as enjoyment.
They’re hardly a new project (the band formed in Athens in 2009, this is their fourth studio album), but the way Bambara have chosen to work their sound on ‘Stray’ feels totally fresh and invigorating. It is a mesmeric result that builds and extends, gradually drawing the listener in.
Experimental with a pop edge, the band tackle new territory by expanding their existing setup and drawing on a wider, often contrasting, range of inspirations; a soundscape in which Sade is viewed with as much fascination as Leonard Cohen, and a world where the theme of death is regarded as potent as the essence of life.
Far from being a one-dimensional, gloomy affair, this soundscape also offers variety and nuance across the 10 tracks. Atmospheric and haunting, the dark textures are intense and deep, the overall statement is manifold and complex.
Frontman Reid Bateh’s woozy, drunken baritone leads opening track ‘Miracle’, immediately followed by ‘Heat Lightning’ - a song blissfully engulfed in punchy basslines, addictive rhythmic patterns and poetic ease. “Death rides at night in a copper Pinto. Candy in the glove box where a revolver would go. His bones are trapped in greasy fat and he’s shaking as he laughs at jokes about the weather,” Bateh insists. ‘Sing Me to the Street’ switches up the vibe with ethereal female vocals contrasting the singer’s deeper range.
The energetic strength of ‘Serafina’ is something else, the dynamic track depicting a story about a young girl placed in an institution because of her obsession with fire. She sees a fellow arsonist escape with his girlfriend, and the event has a big impact on her. The song seems to be tackling the idea that people are who they are, and should not necessarily be forced to change.
Elsewhere, a range of colour and shade are found on the infectious ‘Death Croons’ and ‘Ben & Lily’ - a track full of gothic cowboy punk vibes - while ‘Made for Me’ reflects a brighter, more sweet sentiment. All is followed by ‘Sweat’, a raw, intense song drenched in dark humour and nightmarish imagery. The decision to end the record with the hypnotic ‘Machete’ brings every element of the project together.
Engrossing, dark and irresistible, ‘Stray’ is a grandiose effort from an adventurous group, who just keep getting better all the time. Bambara remain a genuine force.
Words: Susan Hansen
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