Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notes and observations on Bandazian and their latest album: O Pioneer

Hailing from the strangely diverse amalgamated suburbs of Washington, DC are four boys (men?) who have got it in their heads to live in this town, make music, and get it right and real.  Yes, I have met them.  I have sat while they praise and tease each other.  I have heard them draw a crowd.  I have seen them sad, happy, bored, and awkward.


First comes Ricky “the siphoner” Powderly, perpetually broke and homeless.  It seems no one sat him down and schooled him on how to write a pop song, yet he wields a knowledge and instinct most likely retained from his past life as Ian Curtis of Joy Division.  Here is the deal with Powderly’s (keys) talent: he knows when to stop, when to pull back, and that is what is just right with good rock and roll.  He brings the slightest variation to outlining a chord progression without overplaying, keeping a solid ground on which to build a song.  Listen to Clippership off of “O Pioneer” to hear Powderly work. 


With all of his wits about him, Timothy “the robot” Shull (bass) is the only member of Bandazian with a college degree and a full time job.  Though he has a degree in music, he returns to the point that it was NOT in performance.  Yes, he is irritatingly smart and seems to have a knowledge of music that informs the band’s decisions, but do we really need to be lectured on the history of rock and roll and the African Diaspora.  Maybe we do, maybe every band needs the one guy who can point out why exactly it is preferable to record on an out of tune piano.  I think Josephine off of O Pioneer is a good one to listen to if you want to hear Tim’s brain working.


The one and only Kevin “Krum” Rumley (beats) secretly runs this town.  Not even he knows it yet, but with a frequent high five and lavish praise he has won over many a cold cold heart.  Though he is a mere 23 years old, Krum has seen more than enough loss for one man. This is not the forum on which to elaborate, but take note that there is something in his playing, in his sensitivity as a drummer, that gives backbone to Bandazian’s music: a will to live and hit hard that comes from surviving tragedy.  A band is only as good as their drummer and thank goodness for these boys, Krum is their strongest asset.  Though Krum’s beats and playing give depth to every song, even if he is just shaking a tambourine, a great one to listen to is Cheap Champagne off of O pioneer. 


Alex “sensei” Keena  (leading/singing/guitaring/engineering), the one with the rat tail/mullet, has faithfully moved down to Asheville with his fiancĂ© after realizing that everyone in his band had left Virginia.  He is not a daft fellow by all means. He is quite the resourceful intelligent type, engineering local Richmond band’s albums on a pirated q-bass. Keena’s true gift, in my opinion, is his lyricism: telling the story that draws Bandazian’s music down through the layers of sediment to rest on bedrock. He has an ear for pop hooks and a blues infused voice to match.  If he danced like Yacht I am sure he would be a superstar by now, but all in due time.   I can’t pick one song out of the eight on O Pioneer to showcase Keena’s multifaceted talent.  Yup, you will have to put it on and listen to it all…..the….way….through!


When they self-released their first album, “in vacant fields” in 2006 they were young and green.  They had, “no reason to do it, we just wanted to make music,” notes Alex.  Not yet sure of what their sound actually was, Rick and Alex road-tripped to Iowa to find some inspiration and record, later Krum and Tim adding tracks. The album itself was the impetus for becoming a band. In Vacant Fields, has a lot of different ideas, it is almost an experiment in pop forms, but what it showcases is their natural talent for  arrangement.  It sounds good, tight, but a little unrealized, not yet the Bandazian I heard play last month.  That is not at all a bad thing, they are actually growing in each recording, which happens to be counterintuitive in the music business.  Many an indie band or a major band for that matter will put out  a great record and never live up to it.  Many of the bands they loved in High School: Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Pearl Jam etc, did just that.  why not keep making better and better albums?

The next year 2007, saw the win of a battle of the bands at the Orange Peel.  A fortuitous win brought them the experience of recording at Echo Mountain, having to write the songs in the few days before starting to record.  The Crocodile Tears EP is a four piece popping’ rock party, both pleasing to the ear and danceable.  Again the arrangements are quite impressive and I have a feeling that Krum’s beats have a lot to do with that. They are all without pretension, willing to learn and grow  and listen to each other.  There is not a lot of ego-driven bullshit that has the ability to stop musicians in their tracks and make them question everything too much.  They are fresh and wide-eyed, full of possibilities.

And now to “O Pioneer” the album they released this year. After scrapping the first draft of it, they found what they really wanted and raced the clock finding a lot of inspiration in the deadlines.  Wanna know what I think of it?  I love it:  it has overarching themes of faith, displacement, renewal, and individuation .  O Pioneer is a complete whole, it has a strong story arch that mirrors a life cycle, from birth to death;  and finds a way to be both pop sensitive as well as political and empathetic.   The songs tell both personal stories, as well as reach into the third person to find and tell the stories of others.  There is musicality in this album: interesting melodies, solid melodic and harmonic hooks, and great beats.  But the most important musical element I hear is simplicity.  There is a feeling of sonic space.  Their sound is stripped to its essential elements without being dumbed down. 

Without any kitsch or gimmicks to hook you in, like matching cardigans or pyrotechnics, these boys still manage to have something uniquely cohesive that identifies them.  They have an innocence and loyalty towards each other, they are brothers: stalwart and loving.   Before they get too big for their breeches, take some time and have a sing along with the boys of Bandazian.

No comments: