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Stray

by Bambara

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Martin Woytas
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Martin Woytas When I listen to this, I feel like the saddest cowboy. Favorite track: Stay Cruel.
Eric Keenaghan
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Eric Keenaghan Just like Elias Ronnenfelt carries the living flame of olde Nick Cave with his Marching Church and Iceage projects, Bambara keep the torch of Rowland S. Howard lit, inflected with the bluesy, boozy storytelling sensibilities of other dear departed ones, like Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nikki Sudden. These Immortal Souls for these pretty damned times. Favorite track: Stay Cruel.
rikm
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rikm I have a lot of respect for a good story, and over the last few years Bambara have gained a great reputation as impressive musical storytellers, a reputation that's very well deserved.

On "Stray" each song tells a tale and brings richly defined characters to life, all of their hopes and dreams brought into sharp focus. Every song on the album is a powerful and engaging story that needs to be heard, and from that perspective, "Stray" stands out as one of my favorite albums of the year so far...
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1.
04:57
The name Miracle has followed her around her whole life. Born to sterilized parents who vanished one night. Got a tattoo, says “Meanness,” inside her lower lip. She pulls it down in the mirror so she can read it. Framed by her blonde wig in the bright white glow. Spit crawls down her wrist and she lets her lip go. She smokes out her window watching the sunset Behind the figures of bending trees. While her collection of broken wind chimes Play wild drones in minor keys. They see her in The Cheetah on the weekday nights. They see her and they dream of young versions of their wives. She saved up for some braces, all the ones and the fives. Her teeth are straightening out now and sore all the time. Hands reach out for her like she’ll cure disease. She bats her eyes and makes them say “Please.” “Meanness,” she thinks. Round the pole. Spinning. Heavy breathing. “Meanness,” she thinks. Sore mouth. Pouting. Blowing kisses. “Meanness,” she sings. Skinny legs. Kicking. Flailing. “Meanness,” she sings.
2.
Clouds flash up ahead. Just heat lighting, he thinks. No rain for the flames. Death rides at night in a copper Pinto. Candy in the glove box where a revolver would go. His bones are trapped in greasy fat and he’s Shaking as he laughs at Jokes about the weather and news from the fire at the mill. Letting parched mosquitoes drink their fill Between his knuckles on the wheel while he Laughs like baby pigs squeal. Pale eyes, huge, behind thick glasses. Speeding through lights, turning green as he passes. Says, “Weathermen are worse than those tarot card teens. They can’t explain every little thing. I don’t care what they say, ain’t gonna rain. Fires aren’t made just to be tamed.” Death pulls off to piss in a patch of dry weeds. Aiming at every lightning bug he sees. Hears a creature crying from a ditch, you know Death just can’t resist it. He looks at all the models on the billboards going by. Thinking of X’s in their eyes. He smiles at his wandering mind while he’s Glowing in the moonlight. The radio turns to static. He sticks his hand out the window And winces at the first drops of rain. Says, “Weathermen are worse than those palm reading freaks. They can’t explain every little thing. I don’t care what they say about the rain. It’s not stopping in a day–ain’t no way. It’s not gonna end till every coffin’s swimming.”
3.
I keep thinking Shifting in my sleep. Sirens in the distance Sing me to the street And I go See what’s in the air. Probably nothing. Train’s leaving. I catch it just in time. And the vomit Riding with me Crawls in a sickle-shaped design Towards my feet. I take it as a sign It’s saying– You will go I know You will go away I’ll go away But it’s nothing. The show’s empty Except that guy I always see. He creeps up and asks me If I’ve heard what’s happening And I say, “I don’t care at all. Hopefully nothing.” He says, “You know Cole was murdered Just about one year back. Well, Claire had their baby And tonight she drowned it in the bath, Saying: ‘Death will find us all.’” I say, “Fuck, man” You will go Just go You will go away Just go away You will go Leave me alone You will go away Just go away Want to hear nothing Standing in the deli light I duck into the deli No one’s at the counter Just a sleeping cat Grab their little sleeping cat and run I grab the cat and run. And I tell it You will go You know You will go away You’ll go away You will go Can’t you see You will go away You’re the same as me We’re nothing. I’ll call you Nothing. I’ll call you Nothing.
4.
03:57
Sadie saw smoke curling up from the trees Put on her coat and went outside to see. A girl was feeding leaves and branches To a pile burning debris and dancing. Sadie said, “Got a nice fire tonight. What’s your name if you don’t mind.” She said, “My name is Serafina, But people call me Sera to save some time.” “Well, I’ve got all the time in the world.” Sadie grabbed a stick and lit it while the girl Said she’d been committed as a child. Discovered her love for fire, ran wild. In the asylum was a charming arson Who broke out with his girl and started Burning through Georgia like a moonstruck Sherman. Sera knew what she wanted for sure then. “People are who they are.” She said “And I want their kind of love Where you’re bad together and it’s good.” Sadie said, “Let me grab some wood and booze See if we can’t keep this thing alive till noon.” Serafina Shoots roman candles all around Serafina Smiling with matches in her mouth Serafina Wears a bright blazing crown of flowers and down Serafina Smell of gasoline in her hair Serafina Cinders glow as she blows cool air Serafina In her stare burns a solar flare Months went by and they were happy. Setting fire to trashed mattresses Cars with tickets on their dashes Mannequins scattered in tattered masses Through the rundown mall. They’d take pictures for their book Rubbing the ash and soot On each other’s skin till it turned gray And pose like dying lovers from Pompeii. In an overgrown lot They fucked till it got too hot. Lying on top of a burning blanket. They hopped up and stood there naked. Smoking cigarettes and coughing. Sera threw her lighter in. Heard it popping. “We gotta keep it up, Sadie. No stopping.” “We gotta keep it up, Sadie, we’re not stopping.” They watched as the wind caught. The fire spread a little further and died off. Sadie said, “I’m gonna buy us an old house In a big town. Where we can start a life and burn it all to the ground.” Serafina Shoots roman candles all around Serafina Smiling with matches in her mouth Serafina Wears a bright blazing crown of flowers and down Serafina Throws firecrackers at their feet Serafina They start dancing. Dancing while they sing Serafina Throws her dress in the flames Serafina Black sequins writhing Black sequins shine Serafina They sing, “We’ll never die.” Serafina “We’ll burn and cry. We’ll never die.”
5.
04:08
Death orders a drink. “Something pink With cherries and a sugar rim,” he says “Make sure its sweet.” He grabs his wallet From his shirt pocket And two gold teeth Clink in his empty glass. He rattles them and laughs. An older woman In a stained sundress Sits down right next to Death and says, “You got some fucked up eyes But they seem wild.” Death takes off his glasses And smiles as she flashes A big bag full of blow. Saying, “Tonight’s so slow. Wish this place would explode.” He says, “I, I am not your kind.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “You’ll see when you see me in the light.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” He puts his glasses back on Sees a lighting bug blinking, Flipping around in her hair. He flicks it on the bar and stares. She says, “I never see these things. Not around here. Not this time of year.” Then she drowns it with her beer. Death’s face lights up As she plucks Each of its struggling wings And says, “I hear they’re all dying. City light’s too confusing.” Death’s crooning: “I, I am not your kind” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “You’ll see when you see me in the light.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” He looks at her dress. Thinks about wearing it. Tearing its seams. Stretching it on his fat body till the stain settles over his heart. But there’s other relics in the trunk of his car. Countless years of collecting. Keeping his favorites close. This filthy flower print dress would fit in nice, though. He drains his cosmo and says, “It’s been a pleasure but you gotta know.” “I, I am not your kind” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “You’ll see when I feel that it’s your time” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” “Come on, baby, lets have some fun.” And what she said echoes “I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting.” As he drives away “I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting.” Fly squirming in a web “I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting.” As he drives away “I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting.” Puts a blonde wig on his head “I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting.” As he drives away “I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting.” Laughing like a pig squeals As he turns around
6.
05:19
I hadn’t dreamed in years. My nights had become lonely jump-cuts to morning. Then I saw Miracle dance. Pulled from my dream by a siren. The kind of fantasy I’d spend my life in Where she made me skin my knees at her shrine then She kicked me in the teeth for my crying. Hooked me on a leash and then she tied it Tightly to a tree where her little dogs piss. On a night like this When a dream of her is ripped away I close my eyes and say: Try to stay cruel for me. Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey Just for another minute. Try to stay cruel for me. Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey Though I don’t deserve it. Try to stay cruel for me– Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey One night, I watched her pulling bits of wig from her braces After she’d cleared all the bills from the stage. I nearly approached her then until I saw her face, Almost grateful, in the mirrored-wall And I wished it would fall and shatter. Tonight I’ll try again. Grab the cash I’ve been saving. Hobble to the club and start waiting. Drink a few to keep my courage from waning As she pounces on the pole and starts her flailing. I’m soaked in sweat. My chest is aching. The metal on her teeth flashes like a beacon. I wave my cash at the stage. She smiles, touching my hand. I recoil and say: Try to stay cruel for me. Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey No smiles, No mercy. Try to stay cruel for me. Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey Can’t take no more pity. You gotta stay cruel. Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey Just like when I’m dreaming. Try to say something cruel. Cruel for you, baby Cruel for you, honey Or I’ll be lost. Please. You put that cash in my hand I’ll be cruel for you. Cruel for you, honey I’m ready. I’m your limping slave. Come on you weak little man I’ll be cruel for you. Cruel for you, honey No kindness. No tenderness. Just cruel. You put that cash in my hand I’ll be cruel for you. Cruel for you, honey Try to stay cruel. I want to taste that meanness you sing about. Come on you weak little man, I’ll be cruel for you. Cruel for you, honey Try to stay cruel. For me. I want your leather, your steel, your heavy heel.
7.
03:41
It was a humid summer Of diseased mosquitoes and heat strokes. I was working on an assembly line until school started up And that’s where I met Ben. “I’m a Eunuch,” Ben said “I was in my prime when they cut me down. They were tired of me chasing their daughters, Burning their precious mill to the ground.” “They got me–” “When I stole Mr. Beck’s corvette His yapping Shih Tzu riding shotgun. I parked it in the lake and learned to swim. Then I was too worn out to run.” “Met Lily in the Milledgeville Asylum. They fixed her the same as me. She’s my halfwit infertile beauty. They cut us both down like rotten trees.” “But we were blooming,” Ben said “I broke us out and stole a ring.” Still see them when I’m sleeping. In dreams, when I’m tired and alone. Lily’s smiling, picking bugs off of the altar. And a rose pinned to Ben’s blood-soaked tuxedo. Last time I saw Ben, Blood rolled down the conveyor belt. He was injured bad but still working Swearing he’d send some guy to hell. Ben said, “I don’t mind he shot me. If I’m being honest, I deserved it. But what he did to my sweet Lily She don’t deserve that one bit.” Looking in Ben’s eyes, I knew he meant it. And I realized I was a coward. Next day I heard those cheap apartments Near the river had burned down. A few people died. And Ben was long gone. In my dreams they watch the fire. Their twin gold teeth gleam like polished guns. See them on the highway, her toes tapping on a suitcase In a new corvette Ben’s aiming at the sun. I dream they’re on the run. Always driving towards the sun. I always dream they’re on the run. They’re driving straight for the burning sun.
8.
04:21
I watch you cry again In the only bar tonight that’s slow. Wearing the dress I met you in All those years ago, Now You say, “If there is a Hell That’s where you’ll be. Consumed by pain you’ve never felt But you’ve caused in me.” Lit cigarettes will rain As you feed my bones to hungry strays You’ll kiss each one and give them names Using my ribs for little games Try to read some stranger’s thoughts Through his piss-drunk, pale-eyed stare. Then I order another shot And start to pet your hair. “There, there.” You plucked me out of the wind Like some insect whirling by. Though I’ve never stopped stinging You kept me alive. Lit cigarettes will rain On a field where horses roam untamed See you running with them through the flames Wild flowers in their manes As you lead the stampede my way Or maybe it’s shivers and snow An ocean of icet on frostbitten toes Where whales sing their sad songs beneath my feet And a girl with long dark hair Glides between them with ease When Death comes driving through Saying, “Son, take a seat.” I’ll say, “Only if you’re headin’ to The Hell she made for me.” Your cigarettes will rain Burning holes into my face I’ll hold out my tongue like an ashtray Try to taste your lips through the pain.
9.
03:56
Well I saw John in a vision Years after he died. I asked what it’s like to stop living. He said, “It’s a look in your eye.” Then he moved in slow-motion. Said, “It’s kind of like that too. Death is what you make it But you’ll find that out soon.” No halo No wings Just seventeen With a sheen of nothing Connor’s mom wore a Bandanna on her head. Frail and tired, but still smiling Though she rarely left her bed. One day she called us in Put Old Yeller on TV And we watched it both wishing We were outside climbing trees. When the kid shot his dog She fixed Connor’s hair and said, “Though it doesn’t seem fair, Sometimes love’s interrupted by death.” Near the end KC said, “Son, no savior will return. And his daddy ain’t waiting for us. See what happened to Irene after years at the church. Ain’t no Good Book keep maggots away from their lunch.” The last words he said to his nurse were, “Pray for me.” Ed reclined on a frozen body for a smoke. His friend stepped onto a landmine And Ed’s uniform got soaked. His eyes lingered on the cigarette in his hand And he ashed it with his new finger The doc cut from a dead man. He told me nights were so black It’s like you passed to the other side. You’re not sure if you’re alive Till you feel the sweat burn your eyes. At her place after working a late shift at the bar Drunk and mad at the hot city night She was scared, saying people got shot up on Starr. I said, “Everything is alright.” And it all seemed so suddenly sweet to me. Even cleaning up rich tourist piss on my knees. Kicking her hissing cat off of my feet I told her, “We’re still sweating.”
10.
05:17
There’s a clearing behind her mother’s house On the other side of Silver Creek. We’d drink cheap, cherry vodka there late at night. Her dog, Lobo, at our feet. Crystal was younger than me, but much tougher With a dark smile on her lips. She looked so pretty laughing in my puckered face When I pulled up her skirt a bit. Lobo took off. She said, “You catch that hound I’m yours.” So I ran Through the trees Chasing sounds Deep into the darkness Then I fled And took Crystal to her room. Turned off all the lights. I closed the curtains to the sickle moon. Said, “There’s a strange man outside. He was out there swattin’ lighting bugs On his greasy face and body. I could just make out two big pale eyes staring Through streaks of glowing green His pig-face grinnin’ mean.” Her smile Fell away And she said, “Thought I was goin’ crazy. I’ve seen him too. And I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take it. Every night I see him in the window. Those big pale eyes.” I stole a machete Hacked up small animals for practice Even when I found Lobo tied in a knot No one believed us Weeks later I was patrolling the woods Red lights flashing through the branches I dropped the machete Ran to her house And saw two cop cars and an ambulance Lighting bugs glowing in the breeze And I fell to my knees It’s been years now. I moved to the city To get lost in the trash Like one of many fruit flies. And I found my wife, Claire. So full of life, so wild, With a smile beyond compare. And our first child is Kicking strong inside her. But sometimes I swear I look at her face and I see Crystal hiding in there. The way her lips pout When she’s brushing her hair. I see her everywhere. I tried my best to lose her. How I got lost in bars spilling into streets. Too drunk to dream. Can’t dream or I’ll see him choking Crystal with her sheets And grinning mean. Now, it seems Like violence is a mist Slowly creeping from the past. And I can’t help but feel He’s coming back for me. Just last week, An old machete was found Lodged in some young cop’s gut. Right on our street. Where I could hear him suffering. And I recalled a possum Still trying to run Though I’d cut its head clean off. Same as me, I thought, Fleeing home when I knew damn well he’d never stop. Because I saw those eyes. And tonight, As I patrolled the halls Checking all the windows, I saw The green glow of a lightning bug. Kissed Claire’s sleeping lips and grabbed my gun. Not gonna run.

about

Special Clear Vinyl Edition (50 Only) Comes w/ Enamel Pin and is a Bandcamp Exclusive.

Available in LP, Special Edition LP and CD Formats. First 200 LPs hand-numbered. Special Edition LPs come with enamel pin (limited to 200).

One thing you won’t be able to avoid on Bambara’s Stray is death. It’s everywhere and inescapable, abstract and personified – perhaps the key to the whole record. Death, however, won’t be the first thing that strikes you about the group’s fourth – and greatest – album to date. That instead will be its pulverising soundscape; by turns, vast, atmospheric, cool, broiling and at times – on stand out tracks like “Sing Me To The Street” and “Serafina” – simply overwhelming.

Bambara – twin brothers Reid and Blaze Bateh, singer/guitarist and drummer respectively, and bassist William Brookshire – have been evolving their midnight-black noise into something more subtle and expansive ever since the release of their 2013 debut Dreamviolence. That process greatly accelerated on 2018’s Shadow On Everything, their first on Wharf Cat and a huge stride forward for the band both lyrically and sonically.

The album was rapturously received by the press, listeners and their peers. NPR called it a “mesmerising...western, gothic opus,” Bandcamp called the "horror-house rampage" "one of the year's most gripping listens," and Alexis Marshall of Daughters named it his “favorite record of 2018.” Shadow also garnered much acclaim on the other side of the Atlantic. Influential British 6Music DJ Steve Lamacq, dubbed them the best band of 2019’s SXSW, and Joe Talbot of the UK band IDLES said, "The best thing I heard last year was easily Bambara and their album Shadow On Everything." The question was, though, how to follow it?

To start, the band did what they always do: they locked themselves in their windowless Brooklyn basement to write. Decisions were made early on to try and experiment with new instrumentation and song structures, even if the resulting compositions would force the band to adapt their storied live set, known for its tenacity and technical prowess. Throughout the songwriting process, the band pulled from their deep well of creative references, drawing on the likes of Leonard Cohen, Ennio Morricone, Sade, classic French noir L’Ascenseur Pour L’Echafraud, as well as Southern Gothic stalwarts Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews.

Once the building blocks were set in place, they met with producer Drew Vandenberg, who mixed Shadow On Everything, in Athens, GA to record the foundation of Stray. After recruiting friends Adam Markiewicz (The Dreebs) on violin, Sean Smith (Klavenauts) on trumpet and a crucial blend of backing vocals by Drew Citron (Public Practice) and Anina Ivry-Block (Palberta), Bambara convened in a remote cabin in rural Georgia, where Reid laid down his vocals.

The finished product represents both the band's most experimental and accessible work to date. The addition of Citron and Ivory-Block’s vocals create a hauntingly beautiful contrast to Bateh’s commanding baritone on tracks like “Sing Me to the Street”, “Death Croons” and “Stay Cruel," while the Dick Dale inspired guitar riffs on “Serafina” and "Heat Lightning" and the call-and-response choruses throughout the album showcase Bambara’s ability to write songs that immediately demand repeat listens.

While the music itself is evocative and propulsive, a fever dream all of its own, the lyrical content pushes the record even further into its own darkly thrilling realm. If the songs on Shadow On Everything were like chapters in a novel, then this time they’re short stories. Short stories connected by death and its effect on the characters in contact with it. “Death is what you make it” runs a lyric in “Sweat,” a line which may very well be the thread that ties the pages of these stories together.

But it would be wrong to characterize Stray as simply the sound of the graveyard. Light frequently streams through and, whether refracted through the love and longing found on songs like “Made for Me” or the fantastical nihilism on display in tracks like the anthemic “Serafina,” reveals this album to be the monumental step forward that it is. Here Bambara sound like they’ve locked into what they were always destined to achieve, and the effect is nothing short of electrifying.

credits

released February 14, 2020

Bambara is Reid Bateh, Blaze Bateh and William Brookshire

Produced, Engineered and Mixed by Drew Vandenberg
Additional Engineering by William Brookshire
Mastered by Carl Saff

All Songs Written by Bambara
All Lyrics written by Reid Bateh

Reid Bateh - Vocals, Guitar, Noise
Blaze Bateh - Drums, Percussion, Organ
William Brookshire - Bass, Synth, Piano
Ani Ivry-Block - Backing Vocals
Drew Citron - Backing Vocals
Adam Markiewicz - Violin
Sean Smith - Trumpet

Erik A. Burdett - Cover Photo

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Bambara Brooklyn, New York

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