Bambara: Love On My Mind MLP
If the start of the breakthrough for Bambara was the radically reimagined sound of 2018’s "Shadow On Everything" (dubbed by NPR a “western gothic opus”), then the moment it truly arrived was on the cinematically riotous noir-punk of 2020’s "Stray". In the UK, buoyed by the enthusiasm of 6Music DJ Steve Lamacq (who called the band, “one of his favourite discoveries of the year”), the band rose sharply, immediately selling out shows across the country. Meanwhile, back in their native US, KEXP’s John Richards echoed the same sentiment. Things were set. In fact, tickets had just gone on sale for their biggest show to date, a 1500 cap headliner at London’s Electric Ballroom.
Then…well, then same as for everyone. Shutdown, lockdown, hibernation, nothing. It was a hammer blow. But rather than rue their misfortune, the band desperately tried to turn it into a positive, immediately moving to try to make more, and – they were determined - better, music. The result is the career-high 'Love On My Mind' – a six song mini-album, mixed by Claudius Mittendorfer - that condenses all the energy and darkness that has made Bambara so compelling but rearranges them into something defiantly new.
Not that getting there was easy. With the band’s core (twin brothers Reid and Blaze Bateh, the singer and drummer, and childhood friend William Brookshire, bass) scattered across the US, they remotely pieced together an EP but as soon as it was finished, they scrapped it. In their words, it felt “dishonest”. They were striving for something new and they hadn’t hit the mark. They realized they needed to change approach so at that point they decided to reconvene in New York. Finally, things started to take shape.
By now, they had a better idea of where they wanted to head. They knew they wanted to include a couple of duets and enlisted the vocals of Bria Salmena (Orville Peck/Frigs) and Drew Citron (Public Practice). They also wanted to expand their sound palette so turned to Jason Disu and Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers) to add trombone and saxophone respectively. They recorded again, utilizing all these new elements, sampling their recordings as they went along, in the process manipulating the sounds across the mini album. The final result is something astonishing.
Opening track, “Slither in the Rain,” all hissing high-hat and spectral synthlines, is a true statement of intent. It’s minimal and atmospheric, foregrounding Bateh’s raw vocals as he introduces one of 'Love On My Mind’s main characters, years after the events of the album are over, a lonely man who throws bottles at airplanes and dances a two-step in the pattern of a figure-8. While Bateh has always been adept at character sketches, here we are introduced to a newfound vulnerability that runs true through the entire album and causes the songs to hit on a more human level. It’s a change he readily acknowledges.
“The lyrics for 'Love on My Mind' are a little more personal,” he admits, “and definitely more vulnerable and human. There’s more of a focus on realism. I think part of that was because I’d become zoned in on photography during lockdown. Being in NYC without being able to actually experience it made me search for representations of the way it feels to be running around in the city. And I found that in photographs. Mainly, Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin. This also influenced the decision to make one of the characters in the story a photographer, presenting pieces of the story through her snapshots.”
That’s something that makes sense of a track like “Point And Shoot” - – in which each stanza describes the louche, lawless scenes of “rooftop girls / standing shoulder-to-shoulder, naked figures with their hips / cocked,” busted up jaws, and couches full of burn-holes captured by the snapshots of 'Love on My Mind’s female lead – displays an autobiographical intimacy that is not as apparent in Bambara’s previous releases. There’s also a newfound tenderness here that hasn’t always been present before – especially on “Birds”, a rare love song (from which the releases’s title is derived) and album closer “Little Wars” a gripping finale of loneliness and isolation.
It's important to note though that in the refiguring of their sonic and lyrical sensibilities, Bambara haven’t lost the thrill of what attracted so many people to them in the first place. It’s just here the wild, kinetic energy is channeled like never before. Put simply, often this mini album just rampages. “Mythic Love” (featuring vocals from Bria Salmena), with its driving bassline and ricocheting guitar lines, brings to mind past rave-ups like “Serafina” and “Sunbleached Skulls” but obliterates them in the process, while “Feelin’ Like A Funeral” – a dangerously oscillating tale of a city knifing – is probably the most thrillingly anthemic song the band have ever recorded.
It all just contributes to the picture of something truly special. "Love on My Mind" is another massive step forward for Bambara, the boldest thing they’ve ever done and the sound of yet another breakthrough. This time though, absolutely nothing’s going to stop them following through on it.
Black or green vinyl in full colour sleeve.