Buke & Gass - "Your Face Left Before You" (Riposte)
There’s an odd space where certain traditions overlap: the avant-garde, the handcrafted, the anti-authoritarian. Last year saw the reissue of Scrabbling at the Lock, The Ex’s 1991 collaboration with cellist Tom Cora. It’s dissonant and jarring, yet also strangely beautiful in places — that extra element changing The Ex’s music just slightly, opening it up to a strange new dynamism that, almost 20 years after it was first recorded, still feels unlike anything else.
I mention said collaboration here because Buke & Gass’s debut feels evocative of it. At times, the interplay of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez recalls the duels between fractured guitars and ragged cello heard so memorably on Scrabbling at the Lock. As debuts go, it’s a deeply assured one, very likely due to Sanchez and Dyer’s previous time together as members of the obsessive avant-punk band Hominid a few years earlier. That the duo makes their own instruments also contributes to the surreal iconoclasm of their sound: there’s a sweep to their strumming, a rootedness to their picking, that remains elusive, defying easy classification. In some ways, the duo’s creation of their own instruments recalls Tune-Yards; that Sanchez’s vocals are in a similar register to those of Merrill Garbus might also play a part in this analogy.
Yet there’s a savagery to the playing here that unquestionably puts this in a punk rock tradition. There’s the low-end squall putting momentum into “Medicina” and the frantically strummed “Bundletuck”; the Branca-as-chamber-pop salvo that’s opener “Medulla Obllongata” and the obsessive, frenetic rattle of “Outt!.” There are also some moments of quiet beauty: “Red Hood Came Home,” for instance, could pass for an outtake from Petra Haden and Bill Frisell’s 2003 collaboration. And what sounds like an infuriated accordion adds a rich background to the hectic “Your Face Left Before You.”
At times, there can be an over-reliance on an organic-sounding push-pull rhythm here; on the surface, a few of Riposte’s songs do have a tendency to blur together after a few listens. But when everything comes together — as on the aforementioned “Outt!,” which builds and builds, effectively ending the album on an exhausted, triumphant note — it’s a mesmerizing project. And it stands as proof that the marriage of ingenuity, aggression and a push toward musical bliss can still yield unexpected results.