‘Stray’ by New York band Bambara is one of those albums that provides a delicious, vicarious thrill on first listen: it has all the brilliance of a coterie of bands stretching from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to Alabama 3, Wall of Voodoo, Sisters of Mercy to Tindersticks: swaggering, poised story-telling that is visceral and vibrant, enigmatic and confident. Originating from Athens, Georgia, you can detect the dark, dank fetid Georgian swamps deep within the veins of the band.
‘Stray’ is gravel-voiced southern gothic rock with a driving, rumbling rhythm and thunderous guitars: it is really the most satisfying pulse-quickening pure rock’n’roll you could wish for.
The themes of the album are centred around the character’s relationships to death, as personified on the album by a character who makes appearances in several songs.
Opening track ‘Miracle’ is a sweeping, expansive introduction with its relentless throbbing bass and brass highlights. Singer Reid Bateh’s sonorous deep vocals are languorous yet driving – recalling the power and enigma of Rowland S. Howard, the unravelling excesses of Nick Cave in mid-The Birthday Party mode.
An explosive beginning to an explosive album.
Second track, ‘Heat Lightening’, currently on high rotation on BBC6, has that slightly unhinged twanging drive redolent of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with its lyrical exposition and emotional abandonment. Truly extraordinary stuff:
Single ‘Serafina’ captures this rapidly beating heart to perfection:
‘Death Croons’ dives deep into a southern swamp, prowling, terrifying, intimidating with antithetically soothing backing vocals behind Bateh’s growling ‘I am not your kind’.
This is indeed The Birthday Party reborn into the new modern era: tales of the dead in a modern carriage: vampire melodies in instagram. Following track, ‘Stay Cruel’ reintroduces the alluring siren song backing that serves to highlight the darkness below the surface. Melodic and foreboding.
Bateh says of the album and its quick birth:
“Usually we have a couple years between records so it doesn’t have to be this way, but we felt like this had to be done in a certain timeframe. We just took the amount of hours we would have spent in two years, and jammed them all into a few months. Pretty much every day we sat in my basement and did 8 hour days. Constantly writing for 7 months. Just writing all day and then going to work at bars at night.”
Bateh’s lyric style befit his work as a fiction author outside the band: the result of prolonged isolation. Using the details in the pictures and memories of events and people from his Georgia upbringing he pieced together a network of characters, each with their own stories and relationships to each other
I just called off work, didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t leave my room other than to get food, and just wrote for a month straight. All I did was wake up, write, then go to sleep. I had the photographs pinned up on the wall in front of where I write, so that no matter what I was doing – if I took a break and looked up – I was sucked into a location of another story, so I was never really outside of the idea of images and narrative.
This is an epic release – deeply satisfying, cathartic to audiences who can embed themselves in the wild stories being told – a stark evocation of a time and place – wrapped in twanging guitars and rumbling bass. Dirty, swampy gothic rock. Magnificent.
You can get the album here and see Bambara on tour across Europe in April/May:
4/5/20 – Sneaky Pete’s – Edinburgh, UK
5/5/20 – Sneaky Pete’s – Edinburgh, UK
5/6/20 – Stereo – Glasgow, UK
5/7/20 – The Cluny – Newcastle, UK
5/8/20 – Brudenell Social Club – Leeds, UK
5/9/20 – The Sound House – Dublin, UK
5/11/20 – Yes (Pink Room) – Manchester, UK
5/12/20 – The Exchange – Bristol, UK
5/13/20 – Clwb Ifor Bach – Cardiff, UK
5/15/20 – The Bullingdon – Oxford, UK
5/16/20 – Bodega Social Club – Nottingham, UK
5/18/20 – Portland Arms – Cambridge, UK
5/19/20 – Hare and Hounds – Birmingham, UK
5/20/20 – The Dome – London, UK
5/21/20 – De Zwerver – Lefﬁnge, Belgium
5/23/20 – London Calling Festival – Amsterdam, Netherlands
5/25/20 – Bumann & Sohn – Cologne, Germany
5/26/20 – Molotow Musikclub – Hamburg, Germany
5/27/20 – Urban Spree – Berlin, Germany
5/28/20 – Sunny Red – Munich, Germany
5/29/20 – Kulturclub Schon Schön – Mainz, Germany
5/30/20 – Trix Bar – Antwerp, Belgium
6/1/20 – Rotondes – Luxembourg, Luxembourg
6/3/20 – L’Espace B – Paris, France
Bambara is the Bateh brothers, Reid and Blaze, singer / guitarist and drummer respectively, and bassist William Brookshire.