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Stray is the fourth album from Bambara, a brooding post-punk band from New York via Georgia. The album’s general theme is death and as such Stray is contemplative and surly. But make no mistake, dull or dreary it ain’t. Among the standard references to a broiling Joy Division post-punk vibe, Stray also has deathly surf rock jangles at times and a southern rockabilly influence here and there, like The Buttertones or The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Stray is almost certainly Bambara’s best album yet. Stray is available in an indie store exclusive clear vinyl.
Released: February 2020 Cat: WCR098 Label: Wharf Cat
1. Miracle 2. Heat Lightning 3. Sing Me To The Street 4. Serafina 5. Death Croons 6. Stay Cruel 7. Ben & Lily 8. Made For Me 9. Sweat 10. Machete
At its darkest, it’s oppressive; at its lightest, it’s life affirming.
Stray is an album of vignettes, glimpses of lives half-lived, painted with a palette of the rawest post-punk. Yet strangely, this is BAMBARA’s most varied work yet. It’s orchestral compared to previous outings, backing vocals providing a levity not before seen in their work. These moments of clarity make the entire record darker by their presence. At its darkest, it’s oppressive; at its lightest, it’s life affirming. His conversational style of lyricism works so well set against such a backdrop- like a smooth whiskey, it’s just so easy to swallow.
And what tales he tells. ‘Serafina’ tells of a pyromaniac runaway and her twisted love and nihilism. Every track here twists and turns with impressive dexterity. It reminds of Murder Ballads- Stagger Lee could easily turn up. ‘Miracle’ is a perfect example: “The name Miracle has followed her around all her life / born to sterilised parents who vanished one night”. Or ‘Stay Cruel’, “I hadn’t dreamed in years, my nights had become lonely jump cuts to the morning / and then I saw Miracle dance”. This is another dimension of the record, the self-reference present here. Bateh creates a coherent world, characters resurface, and Death is present throughout; the thread tying the album together. In ‘Heat Lightning’ he drives at night, in ‘Death Croons’ he picks up a woman in a bar, and in ‘Sweat’ he’s ever present, culminating in the line “Death is what you make it”.
The production is noticeable by its absence; to achieve this gloom but retain clarity requires a light touch indeed. Often, guitars just accent the record, lifting the entirety in the process. Bateh is front and centre, but sinks back into the mix when required. This is an album of and about Death, and for BAMBARA it represents a monumental leap forwards.