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Bambara: Stray – “Walking that tightrope between beauty and pain”

The three piece noise makers return with more dark twisted tales of life’s undercurrent.

Bambara: Stray
Wharf Cat Records

New York based three-piece, Bambara, return with their much-anticipated follow-up to 2018’s simply stunning Shadow On Everything with Stray.

In the lead-up to Stray it was hard to consider Bambara (Reid Bateh – singer/guitarist, Reid‘s twin brother, Blaze – drums/vocals, and William Brookshire – bass/vocals) topping the brilliance of their former conception, but with Stray they have certainly raised the possibility.

Rather than one main theme which was the basis throughout Shadow On Everything, Stray compartmentalises Reid Bateh‘s spellbinding tale-spinning with 10 short stories that each illuminate and enthral more and more with every listen.

Bambara‘s southern gothic-inspired leanings may draw comparisons to The Birthday Party/early Bad Seeds while sonically, their nervous freight train blues assault gives a delicate nod in the direction of the much underrated Gun Club.

Essentially brought up on a diet of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, Bateh effortlessly spits out quips that will eternally be etched to your brain. At times it feels like a sordid version of a Cormac McCarthy novel unfurling right before your eyes.

Bateh‘s storytelling is dark and dirty, embellished with cigarette ash and the stench of stale liquor. There’s a razor-sharp edge to his craft. A slightly debauched wordsmith producing gritty realism through a scope of intense anxiety-riddled protagonists navigating on fault lines.

And the results are fascinating.

The scene is set with the opening track, Miracle. A ghostly number that builds with a creeping bassline and methodical brass.

“Got a tattoo, says ‘Meanness’/Inside her lower lip/She pulls it down in the mirror/So she can read it/
Framed by her blonde wig/In a bright white room/Spit crawls down her fist/As she lets her lip go.”

Bateh‘s female characters are hazardous vixens bloodthirsty for danger. Women you shouldn’t fall in love with but can’t help being drawn to them.

Heat Lightning comes as advertised, brimming with rockabilly rage to get your bad swerve on, while Sing Me to the Street wouldn’t look out of place as a foil to a Jim Jarmusch film. Lead single, Serafina is – quite frankly – poetic genius that ploughs a path towards the darkest corner of the earth.

“My name is Serafina/But people call me Sera to save some time/’Well, I’ve got all the time in the world’ and “Serafina/Shoots Roman candles all around/Serafina/Smiling with matches in her mouth.”

It’s simply a rock ‘n’ roll banger with restless heart-on-the-wire riff-a-rola and tumbling percussion. There won’t be many better songs released this year.

Stay Cruel is as close to a ballad that Bambara gets with an echoing blues riff, backing female vocals and subtle brass feminising the band’s approach. It works a storm. Then there’s Ben & Lily. Back by bullet-train blues instrumentation, Bateh once against unleashes memorable one-liners and catchphrases that spark the senses.

“Yeah, I’m dreaming on the run/Always driving towards the sun/Yeah always dreaming on the run
Yeah they’re driving straight for the burning sun.”

The rockabilly blues traipse of Sweat expels more darkness and raw energy with a howling chorus that spits wild fervour. Which then leads us to closing track, Machete. Bambara always close albums big and with Machete, old habits do indeed die hard. A twisted horror story of lust. Love. Murder. The end.

That’s what Bambara are about. They distil darkest and give it free rein with an alluring effect. Some say guitar music is dead. Pastiche. Derivate. Not Bambara. As long as they continue producing this brand of ear-worm then these notions are resoundingly quashed.

Stray is an album where the liner notes must be read with fervent interest. Bambara don’t demand this of their listeners. Like a moth to a flame, subconsciously you are drawn to them. Some of the passages so jarring, you might just get burnt.

This is what upper echelon art demands. Walking that tightrope between beauty and pain and with Stray, Bambara produce both in equal measure.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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