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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Now Departing: Bombadil - A buzz, a buzz


Bombadil
A buzz, a buzz
(Ramseur ; 2008)


The touch of the familiar has always been a selling point in music. But it's also been the cornerstone for bands and artists that have a vision beyond the familiar. Whenever I think of groups that were rooted in the classic while plumbing a broader sense of style, I can't help but think of the Pogues, a band whose foundation in Irish folk traditions allowed it to pivot around the genres of punk and trad-rock with ease, painting a brilliant canvas of where music had been and could go. American indie-rock has seen an upswell of bands like this in the past number of years - the Avett Brothers and, lately, Megafaun have been channeling rustic and classic traditions as a base to create amazingly fresh sounds by mixing them with various American musical styles. Add to the list another North Carolina band - Durham, North Carolina's Bombadil. A buzz, a buzz, the first full-length from Bombadil, has its foundations in folk and country, but it sends its feelers out through the fractured compositions of the indie landscape, grabbing sounds as varied as the minimalism of Spoon and even the woozy-pop of Jon Brion.

The album is a kaleidoscope of moods and sounds, though the record has an unabashedly sunny disposition. The opening track is a spare piano, winsome lyrics, lonely and hopeful before the dynamic true-opener of "Julian of Norwich." If there's a song on this record that reminds me most in style of the Pogues, it's this one - a bounding, traditional English folk ballad down to the horns, pipes and percussive cadence. It's boisterous and rowdy in the way the Pogues were at their best. It's followed by one of three coy and spry songs that dot the album - "Smile When You Kiss" (and the similar "Three Saddest Words") are songs that skip and bubble along with word play and a warm sense of humor. They're purposefully very light and goofy in a way that recalls how Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan could be silly at times. Bombadil aren't the equal of those songwriters by any means, but they have the spirit down nicely.

The title track is the first song to really put to work the notion that Bombadil's folk stance is highly workable as a platform to explore other genres. Driven by rhythmic piano chords, the song is taken up by off-kilter percussion and bass, organic musical noise and bursts of odd harmonics that become more and more infectious upon listening. It recalls the ingenious minimalism of Spoon in its tendency to have parts fall in and out of the song, adding and taking away from the overall picture, leaving ghosts of sounds behind to fill in at times.

The songs "Cavaliers Har Hum" and "Johnny" both mirror the wobbly pop of Jon Brion, with horns, piano and the stray xylophone wandering amidst the song structure. "Johnny" is the best example of this - a somewhat sardonic song about an over-emotional boy, it climaxes among punctuating brass and cymbals. Bombadil remains within the established instrumentation of the record, but bends it to take on the sensibilities of other artists so well in appropriating it for their own. It's a remarkable skill that not a lot of bands always have the talent or patience to do.

Whether North Carolina is beginning to craft a new scene is unclear, but the amazing work of bands like Bombadil is without question. So is the quality of their debut full-length, a record that is as sharp and provoking as it is flat-out enjoyable.

Rating: E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Bombadil - "Julian of Norwich"

Bombadil - "Three Saddest Words"

Download A buzz, a buzz from eMusic.

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