Bayonne: Primitives

If Debussy and Phil Collins fell in love, Bayonne would be their baby. (That's a good thing.)



Label: Mom + Pop
US Release Date: 2016-03-25
UK Release Date: 2016-03-25

Primitives opens onto a roughly sketched landscape of ambient noise and meandering synthesizers before the lines are drawn in and darkened with percussive guitars. It’s the debut album of Roger Sellers, better known by his stage name, Bayonne, and it’s a phenomenally crafted first statement.

Sellers describes himself as a minimal composer, and while Primitives does emphasize moments of spare, lonely sound, it also offers wide swaths of impressionistic, textural richness. The latest single, “Appeals”, calls Debussy to mind more than Steve Reich, with a skittering piano figure that veers just to the left of tonal. Echoing bells throughout the track define its sonic world, so that even though the compositional style may be minimalist, the aural experience is anything but sparse. Primitives plays like one continuous piece of music, putting forward eight separate but connected ideas. Sellers’ vocals and lyrics are often muffled by the music, but when they shine through they do so with a Sufjan Stevens-esque sincerity.

A lot of the record sets off Sufjan bells, actually. It’s ambitious and electronic but still maintains the feel of chamber music, of intimacy. It’s easy to slip into this world and get lost.

Citing his own influences, Roger Sellers puts Phil Collins at the top of the list, and I can see why. There’s no “Easy Lover” allegory on Primitives by any means, but the way percussion is used and the sounds achieved on the drums here are definitely a tip of the hat not only to the Padgham drum sound, which came to fruition on Collins’ Face Value, but to Collins’ earlier work with prog rock giants Genesis. A sensitive mood comes through the drums, and a likelihood that the album title is a reference largely to the soundscape of the drums. There's something both humanistic and animalistic about the way percussion is approached on Primitives that goes a long way to establishing cohesion between these pieces of music. Everything coalesces in the last moments of the closing track, “Omar”, which elevates brutal, driving drums to the foreground. Listening to the percussion alone on this record reveals a journey from the tentative handclaps of “Intro” to the in-your-face beating that cauterizes “Omar”. It’s a feat of sequencing as much as anything else.

If there’s one detractor from Primitives, it’s a certain indecisiveness in direction. These pieces of music sometimes feel too connected, as though they would be better thought of as one statement than eight. It’s a singles world, though, and while “Appeals” and its predecessor “Spectrolite” hold up well enough on their own, their impact is significantly lessened without the context of the album. The dynamics at play here overreach the limits of their tracks, and it’s the prog rock nerd in me that’s rooting for the next record to go full on Tales From Topographic Oceans, two continuous hours of unintelligible and variously pretty words and sounds.

Without a doubt, this is the strongest debut album that’s passed through my hands in a while. There’s smart composition without sacrificing accessibility, and ambition without sacrificing cohesion. I’m interested to see how these songs translate to a live context. Roger Sellers is not a DJ; in fact, he confesses to knowing less about DJing than the average layman, so it seems unlikely these parts will be programmed. Fortunately, he’s playing a handful of dates this spring in support of the record, so we’ll get the opportunity to find out.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.