Dog Ear Days EP
(Emerald Weapon; 2010)
By Chet Betz | 22 September 2010
Pulled off-handedly from a car floor, amidst other promos skimmed and forgotten, it’s something like destiny the way this EP found me. Athens, GA trio Bambara rear the lost heads of things that an older/younger part of me loves deeply: Ten Grand, Slint, Unwound, emo. There are references that I personally discovered not so long ago, like Saint the Fire Show, and current bands like Deerhunter and HEALTH and A Place to Bury Strangers that PR tells me I’m supposed to pretend this sounds like. I tend to think of Clockcleaner and the Terrible Twos, moreso, with their horrifying charisma and music that’s silver-threaded shards, sonic anarchy with a filament of accessibility. But there’s a certain reverbed tenderness on Dog Ear Days and an elegance of design; I kind of want to call it “a White Pony (2000) for the shitgaze kids.” Does that make me a bad person? That’s okay: Bambara is bad people.
I only mean that as a compliment, though. And pretty much everything I say here will only be complimentary. Because as an EP from some no-name, DIY, post-punk, post-rock outfit at which can easily be thrown the names of a lot of bands I like and dislike, Dog Ear Days is some pretty outstanding shit. Unlike any of the artists mentioned above except for Slint, Bambara distinguish themselves here by virtue of focus like a laser beam between the eyes. It’s an overwhelming enterprise, all this intensity of noise and darkness and beauty boiled down to less than twenty five minutes. The concision invokes a concentrated weight and intricacy that reminds me of how that Burial/Four Tet split last year felt so complete despite the brevity—but not really despite the brevity, more like partially because of it. I don’t know if Bambara are a one-trick pony, but if so here is that one trick executed in all its perfunctory, pernicious glory. Like Slint did with Spiderland (1991), Bambara carry us through six tracks that blister and salve and blister and salve and blisster.
There’s something quite immediate about Bambara’s sturm und drang; maybe it’s because violence is immediate and there’s a bluntness, a smacking violence to Blaze Bateh’s snare hits on a track like “Stay Gray” that’s very punk. Maybe it’s the totally righteous emo moments on “Drag Hesitation” and “Chiromancy” that come courtesy of vocalist Reid Bateh. Maybe it’s because William Brookshire’s bass reaches down your throat to tickle your guts. Eviscerating but ethereal this music, which is a rare line to straddle. And industrial rock textures that aren’t a chore or a cliché, that defy Trent Reznor’s existence? Yes, please. See, the guitar/noise loops present are insane; the record starts with a distortion squeal that hiccups into a chord and this is looped and that curt loop serves as the tonal and rhythmic foundation for “Repeat After Me,” as rollicking and energizing an opener as you’ll hear this year. These tricks bear a sophisticated primitivity, an aura of raw potential, that makes me feel a little something of what punks must’ve felt hearing Vs. (1982) for the first time—the sound of something new and strange brought potently into the framework of punishing rock music. Per notes on the Bandcamp site, producers Joel Hatstat (bassist for math-rock maniacs Cinemechanica) and David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers’ guru) delivered “just what [the band] wanted”—apparently, the band wanted chiaroscuro deconstructed and shot through with a biting poignancy. Dog Ear Days is both challenging and enrapturing; the moments where everything lights up are all the more incendiary for the vapors swirling in the air.
Barns will burn. Barns made of stone. And Bambara can get all Old Testament Elijah on that shit because they earn every ounce of their payoffs and their payoffs are unbridled, arcing upward into the night like the top blown off Indy’s Ark. These crescendos, man, these crescendos are chariots of fire. Again, I think of Slint, of lyrics as opaque as black stone but the stone is starting to crack, to crumble, to give way to something even more obscure—a simple line that can mean just about anything yet wrenches at you, and you don’t know why except that maybe it’s because the accompanying music knows all too well. “Drag Hesitation” slinks forward on an aloof rhythm and a blue melody with Reid musing about hellions in “gowns flowing and white,” atmosphere churning, until his voice rises and rises to end with “when our time is done / who’ll receive what we’ve made?” Then it’s a pounding of the main motif, punctuated with blasts of noise, that gives way to the churning atmosphere condensed into a stuttering loop, a set-up for Blaze to bring back his ride cymbal line and for the guttural guitar to refrain. Bambara’s aesthetic cogs are always working together, tracks segueing perfectly into each other, eerie production ephemera billowing out and amassing power (as in the zombie cicada swell on “Feed the Pigs”) until it is no longer ephemera but the beast that eats the music—until the music fights back (as in Blaze’s rattling, thudding kit explosion on “Feed the Pigs”).
“Swim with the Trees” is nearly three minutes of Bambara at their most ambient that at its end begins to shriek then abruptly cuts out, gently replaced by vocal loops that lap at each other and accumulate, Bartok modality by way of Panda Bear swag. And so closer “Chiromancy” is, once more, all Bambara’s got all in together now, in devastatingly logical order. Shrill whistles and drums set the track on edge, and when halfway in the shredding begins, the assurance is that the apocalypse was never called off, only mildly postponed. On “Good Morning, Captain” we arrived at “I miss you” and it broke us. Here the line is “I will finish it” and we are still broken. I mean, I know that I am still broken, and that brokenness is the reason I felt and still feel something deep within me, a bilious burn in the very fucking roots of my being, when I listen to monolithic post-trope rock the likes of Spiderland and Leaves Turn Inside You (2001) and This is the Way to Rule (2003). Sure, Dog Ear Days is only a twenty-something-minute EP by a no-name band but I’m just glad I heard it, glad that here’s one more record that claws out my shit and sends my discharged self floating upward on the empty warmth left inside.