Brooding Goth Meets Post-Punk on Bambara's 'Stray'
On Stray, Bambara peel the curtain back further on their reality. Haunting and deeply evocative words are sewn into a dark tapestry of atmospheric, brooding goth meets post-punk on an album that lingers like the rough outline of an aging scar.
14 February 2020
Come and spend some time with Bambara in their coal-black world. It's a place where brooding goth collides with coarse post-punk on songs that gradually unpeel themselves to reveal further layers of black underneath. A place where a network of damaged and jaded characters appear, perfectly rendered, as if stepping out of sepia-toned photographs.
After extensively touring their widely acclaimed 2018 album Shadow on Everything, Bambara hunkered down in frontman Reid Bateh's basement for seven straight months, dwelling in their dark, musical landscape while attempting to push on further into the gloom. The result is the new album Stray, an album cloaked in a thick mist of cigarette smoke and sorrow.
At the center of it all lies Bateh's unforgettable voice. Sharing a similar baritone to that of Nick Cave but colored with the theatricality of Leonard Cohen, the danger of Peter Murphy, and the howl of Lux Interior, Bateh's dark poetry lies centrally in every song. Full of lust, tragedy, and sorrow, Bateh's richly verbose style conjures up images that veer from the grotesque to darkly humorous.
The opener, "Miracle", quickly immerses the listener in Bambara's matte-black musical vision. Built on a foundation of rumbling bass and underpinned by layers of strings, it's a hugely atmospheric piece. Emerging through it all, like the lit tip of a cigarette glowing through the night-time mist, come Bateh's vocals as he narrates another tale from the dark night of the soul. If there is any unifying theme that binds the songs on the album, it is the protagonist's relationship to death and how they embrace or flee from it.
"Heat Lightning" is a thundering rocker driven by propulsive drums and squalling guitars. Bateh twists and contorts his words like Peter Murphy while lyrically, painting dark, often grotesque pictures. ("His bones are trapped in greasy fat / And he's shaking as he laughs / At jokes about the weather.") The darkly majestic "Sing Me to the Street" with its woozy atmospherics and repetitive bass riff captures the drama of Leonard Cohen but with a hint of Gainsbourg and Bardot thanks to the sensual, female harmonies that flow through it like a warming breeze.
With its razor wire riff, "Serafin" is the album's standout moment. A concise rocker that grips tightly in its black leather fist. It details the story of a relationship that thrives on the chaos of arson and destruction. Like a post-punk Bonnie and Clyde, the protagonists may not live to see another dawn, or they might just outlive us all as they're caught in a maelstrom of exhilarating chaos.
Over tribal post-punk drumming and guitars drenched in reverb, "Death Croons" finds the central character teasing death, imploring him to lighten up. The filmic, "Stay Cruel", would fit perfectly over the credits of a modern take on a Robert Siodmak film. With snares that roll like heavy rain on a sodden sidewalk and echoing guitar notes, we hear a tale of a doomed relationship built on deception and malice. Like many of the more mid-tempo songs on the album, hooks, and melodies slowly reveal themselves like snakes slithering from their cool, dark, hiding places.
"Ben & Lily" plays out like the flipside to "Johnny and Mary" by Robert Palmer. With its sweeping orchestration and minimalistic and repetitive figures, it could be a post-punk movie score. Lyrically, It's an affecting, somber tale about a married couple who were chemically sterilized in the state of Georgia.
"Made For Me" sounds like the Cramps channeling Johnny Cash on a country, goth surf rock journey while on "Sweat" Bateh howls with almost religious fervor as the band build and then release the almost unbearable musical tension. It's an example of Bambara constantly jabbing at their musical template and, in the process finding new angles to deliver their message. Album closer "Machete" reads like an entire Harry Crews novel in five minutes. Characters on the fringes of society locked into the daily struggle for survival and meaning, crash together to simply endure.
On Stray, Bambara peel the curtain back further on their reality. In the process, they have honed their songwriting while losing none of their visceral impact. Haunting and deeply evocative words are sewn into a dark tapestry of atmospheric, brooding goth meets post-punk on an album that lingers like the rough outline of an aging scar.