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Founded in Athens, Georgia by twin brothers Reid and Blaze Bateh, and bassist William Brookshire, Bambara havebeen steadily attracting attention since the release of their 2013 debut. Earning praise from placeslike Pitchfork, NPR, VICE, Bandcamp, Spin, DIY, BrooklynVegan and The Quietus, and touring non-stop in theUS and Europe with like-minded artists like IDLES, METZ, Girl Band and Daughters, the band released their mostcelebrated album to date in 2018 with Shadow On Everything, a release that NPR dubbed a "mesmerizing western,gothic opus." Today, Bambara are announcing their follow up Stray (due out via Wharf Cat on February 14th, 2020),with the premiere of the album's first single "Serafina" on the FADER.
A thunderous squall of a song, "Serafina" provides an arresting introduction to the album. Channelling the anarchicenergy of The Birthday Party and Gun Club, in combination with Reid Blateh's dramatic lyrical style the track imbuesthe story of a pair suburban misfits with apocalyptic weight. Bambara's rhythm section rattles and bursts behind afrantic descending guitar lead as Reid, in a fraying baritone, weaves a tale set in his home state of Georgia thatacknowledges the history of the place with subtle Civil War allusions, while conjuring an immediate atmosphere ofbackwoods unease. As Reid tells to FADER, it's a song built to communicate an unhinged energy.
"Stray is a death-obsessed album," says Reid. "Most of the songs are about different characters’ futile attempts atliving meaningful lives under the weight of imminent annihilation. I wanted "Serafina" to feel different. I wanted thesong to radiate a sort of wild-eyed hope. A youthful disregard for death itself. Serafina and Sadie live exactly howthey want to live, exploring their love for one another before a backdrop of flames. The knowledge of their ownmortality takes nothing from their enthusiasm for life. If anything, they see it as a challenge they might one dayovercome together. When they say, “We’ll never die” I want it to feel like they might actually have a shot."
One thing you won’t be able to avoid on Bambara’s Stray is death. It’s everywhere and inescapable, abstract andpersonified. Death, however, won’t be the first thing that strikes you about the group’s fourth album. That instead willbe its pulverising soundscape; by turns, vast, atmospheric, cool, broiling and at times – as on stand out tracks like“Sing Me To The Street” and “Serafina” – simply overwhelming.
The album began when the band locked themselves in their windowless Brooklyn basement to write. Despite thesuccess of their preceding full length, Shadow On Everything, Decisions were made early on to experiment with newinstrumentation and song structures, even if the resulting compositions would force the band to adapt their storied liveset, known for its tenacity and technical prowess. Throughout the songwriting process, the band pulled from theirdeep well of creative references, drawing on the likes of Leonard Cohen, Ennio Morricone, Sade, classic French noirL’Ascenseur Pour L’Echafraud, as well as Southern Gothic stalwarts Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews.
Once the building blocks were set in place, they met with producer Drew Vandenberg, who mixed Shadow OnEverything, in Athens, GA to record the foundation of Stray. After recruiting friends Adam Markiewicz (The Dreebs)on violin, Sean Smith (Klavenauts) on trumpet and a crucial blend of backing vocals by Drew Citron (Public Practice)and Anina Ivry-Block (Palberta) Bambara convened in a remote cabin in rural Georgia, where Reid laid down his vocals.
The finished product represents both the band's most experimental and accessible work to date. The addition ofCitron and Ivory-Block’s vocals create a hauntingly beautiful contrast to Bateh’s baritone on tracks like “Sing Me tothe Street”, “Death Croons” and “Stay Cruel," while the Dick Dale inspired guitar riffs on “Serafina” and "HeatLightning" and the call-and-response choruses throughout the album showcase Bambara’s ability to write songs thatimmediately demand repeat listens.
While the music itself is evocative and propulsive, a fever dream all of its own, the lyrical content pushes the recordeven further into its own darkly thrilling realm. If the songs on Shadow On Everything were like chapters in a novel,then this time they’re short stories. Short stories connected by death and its effect on the characters in contact with it.
But it would be wrong to characterize Stray as simply the sound of the graveyard. Light frequently streams throughand, whether refracted through the love and longing found on songs like “Made for Me” or the fantastical nihilism ondisplay in tracks like the anthemic “Serafina,” reveals this album to be the monumental step forward that it is. HereBambara sound like they’ve locked into what they were always destined to achieve, and the effect is nothing short ofelectrifying.
Stray will be released on Wharf Cat Records on February 14th, 2020.
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