Bambara: Love on My Mind Album Review
The Bambara are at the heart of an American triangulation – birthplace in Athens, Georgia, operations in Brooklyn, blues punk worthy of 1970s California. Americana. Their stories are recursive, self-contained gothic tales with butterfly-effect surreality: 2018 Shadow over everything explored the fallout from an accidental disembowelment in a fictional Western town, and the 2020s Wander traced the supernatural and generational scars left in the wake of a long-dead Southern eunuch. The fiction of Bambara’s latest EP, The love in my headstrikes closer to home – set in New York, its violent heart takes the form of a bloodless breakup told with bitter omnipotence.
Since 2008, the Bambara have reduced the almost unintelligible noise to something more artfully restrained, but the savagery remains intact and supports leader Reid Bateh’s dark storytelling. When the band hits a shoegaze tone, it acts more like physical weight than airy padding – tangibly metallic, like “Concerns”Continental Platform.” A deft mismatch sweeps over closer ‘Little Wars’, soaking the tortured duo between Bateh and Drew Citron, bassist for fellow Brooklyn post-punks Public practice. Throughout their discography, the Bambara have seemed to understand the power of the female voice to counteract Bateh’s grimaces: when Citron sings, her falsetto voice delicately implores, “Wash this dirty town off your skin with me/We’re going to cut our hair and burn our things. and leave in the spring,” you can feel something flicker without a word. Bateh’s resentful narrator seems to hesitate, and by its denouement the song no longer seems so hostile. Debut single “Mythic Love”, which pairs Bateh with FRIGS‘ Bria Salmena, follows the same formula: the passionate exchange of the duet invokes the brutality of a duet between Peter Peter and Lydia Lunch, but is carried with a cowpunk suavity, the same swaying freshness which is linked in opening “Slither in the Rain” and closer “Little Wars”.
Bateh approaches his work with the formality of an author – even his lyric sheets are formatted in the style of a novel rather than poetry. Recurring elements bleed onto the tracklist and lend dreamlike continuity: the doves with broken necks, the camera at the heart of “Point and Shoot,” the scattered photographs it produces. Likewise, a series of bizarre O’Connor-esque characters litter the pages. The memory of an old friend sleepwalking through the holidays like a “junkie Lady Macbeth”; the narrator snaps a photo of a homeless man crowned with a crown of MetroCards and derisively dubs him the “King of New York.” Most of the scenes take place in abstract flashback: The love in my head itself opens long after the end of the EP’s chronological events, its narrator reduced to a pathetic “two-step deity” as he dances drunk alone, trapped in a city that mocks him. His long-lost love interest is hidden behind the protective lens of his camera, and though he proclaims his affection for her, when he recalls her conversation, it’s always in the context of death: the confession silent of “”When you’re asleep, sometimes I check your pulse”, or the ruthless observation in “One night we saw a Boeing dragging flames / And you said, “They do or they don’t .”