(Emerald Weapon; 2013)
By Chet Betz | 21 May 2013
In 2010 Bambara was an Athens, GA trio who’d released a kick-ass debut EP, the dark, grinding, atmospheric rock of Dog Ear Days. In 2013 they’re Brooklyn-based and suitably more urbane on this, their follow-up, Dreamviolence. The new record, like its title, sounds Lynchian, if Lynch were into hardcore. Structurally, it works to get its anthems (“All the Same,” “Hawk Bones,” and “Nail Polish”) out of the way—I mean, don’t get me wrong, these fist-pumpers are still wonderful beasts. The opener stomps out thrilling dread much like the band’s former work before culminating in a melodic coda and a mantra of the truism “we’re all the same,” which is rendered both beautiful and scary by the blue groove punctuated with blasts of noises. “Hawk Bones” and “Nail Polish” are a powerhouse pair to close the record’s first half, all tumbling, massive guitar lines and impassioned vocals from Reid Bateh with warped surf guitar influence messing about on the fringes (and the Clockcleaner comparison that worked for the band’s EP works here, as well). But, overall, Bambara’s agenda is a little more obtuse this go-around. They want both to rock and to rock you to sleep, and it’s a dichotomy they play with throughout the record, alternating between stormy barn-burners and ambient passages until at the 11th hour/track they arrive at a combination of the two, an ethereal movement of synth sines sandwiched between blasts of punk thrash on “Breaker.”
Indeed, you could say that Dreamviolence has a head that disappears up its own ass as the record progresses…but, gosh, it does so delightfully, at least for those of us into that kind of stuff. The sequencing is choppy to the point of intention, pairings like “Hawk Bones”/”Nail Polish” giving way to the slow-build impressionism of “Train Daze” (you can almost hear the “choo-choo”) and the hauntingly familiar murmur of “Bar,” which then in turn give way to shorter and shorter tracks, more ambience, and apoplectic moments like “Divine Teeth,” a loud blurt of a loop its core. Sound collage is a big part of Bambara’s aesthetic, but in a way that you forget it’s happening, so driving are the main thrusts of these compositions, even when they’re deep into the soft part of the soft/loud dynamic. Emo or nu-metal comparisons no longer hold any weight, if not so much because of many surface changes but of a primal evolution in philosophy and sentiment; like, I felt like I knew exactly what Dog Ear Days was trying to do. But Dreamviolence I’m not so sure, and it’s that much more involving for my uncertainty.
It may be as simple as that title. Too often, perhaps, “dreamy” in music criticism is synonymous with adjectives like “hazy,” “boring,” etc.—paeans to echo and reverb and little else. As an entity, Bambara seem painfully aware of the other possibilities that dreams—and, by extension, our subconscious—hold. They set off to graph that internal terrain and have you take note that they are doing such by virtue of the fact that, for all its rough-and-tumble harshness, the music is cyclical, elliptical, and often otherworldly, its hills and valleys of a fabric composed of an interlacing of things heard and remembered from the real world above. Here, Bambara’s sound collage shtick finds conceptual purpose. And, here, Bambara’s edge and oily blackness lend “dreamy” a whole new wavelength, one that limns the erratic, volatile, and often frightening nature of our own mental and chemical whims. It wouldn’t be totally off to describe Dreamviolence as manic depressive. What’s interesting, though, is that the highs and lows are never truly separated. In fact, in the context of the record’s scape, they are unified, symptoms of one state. The pounding rock is made of the same stuff and instincts as the pulsing dirges, and vice versa. Thus, in the subconscious, and in the hands of art such as this: relief from the throes of bipolarity. The extremes are melted together like the ice caps, your senses awash in the waves of a visceral give-and-take. Bambara rise above the flood, doling out the doses. But it’s not medication. On the closer the band aim to “Disappear” and they do, folded over several times into the loping decay of the music, EQ set to obsolescence. The track cuts out somewhat abruptly, but you can almost feel the music’s liminal frequency carry on. This is where we, too, would love to exist: everything equalized.