By Jimmy Ether
In the few short weeks that I’ve been aware of Buke and Gass, I have become their biggest fan. Seriously. I’ll fight you for that bragging right! Let’s go!
Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer create a sound—simultaneously backwoods and urbane—which fans some deep, primordial fire in my chest. They are positively . . . explosive. And they make me feel explosive.
Riposte is the first full-length album from the duo and it utilizes refined remakes of all but two tracks from +/-, their wonderfully raw 2008 EP, as the basis of its construction. You might wonder why they would recycle material, but in this case it’s a strong move.
They’ve recognized the value of those early tunes and have woven them into a well constructed, polished, and fluid work. The newer material seems to be written specifically to expand upon and carry us over those original five core tracks. They’ve taken a wonderful short story and expanded it to a novel.
I have to wonder if the choice of album title, a synonym of “retort,” hints at the underlying rationale for the remake. Some response to the EP? Or a rebuttal to a short-sighted review? An “Oh yeah? We’ll show you!” message? Somebody should really ask them. I may just be looking for drama.
Riposte begins with the apparent single, “Medulla Oblongata,” which is a great tune and probably their most commercially accessible, although “commercial” is a relative term. Any group which manages to combine the quirky flavors of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, dEUS, Meat Puppets, and Minutemen is hardly typical car advertisement fodder. But mark my words. Someone will place this music in a commercial. When Buke and Gass are playing, they grab your attention.
As the album propels forward, I find myself no longer thinking of songs. Riposte is stream of consciousness. It’s difficult to distinguish where one thought ends and the next begins. But with the sixth track, all thoughts are interrupted by an emphatic clapping beat which walks us into “Revel in Contempt,” a song I’ve been pining for since first hearing Dyer and Sanchez work through a rough arrangement of it on WNYC’s Radio Lab podcast “The Loudest Miniature Fuzz,” which is how Sanchez describes their music. It was in that podcast that Dyer best described the Buke and Gass imagery:
“Imagine a recently retired schoolhouse janitor riding the back of a big horse that’s galloping over different scenes. Like, one scene could be a really calm rose petal-surfaced pond. He jumps over that, and then it gets into another scene where there’s a big party with topless beach goers that are totally pruned out from hanging out on the beach. And they’re very surprised. And then it jumps into another scene where there’s an angry mob with pitchforks and flames. And they’re running after rabbits that’ve have just stolen all of the cabbage and carrots. And they’re not going to be able to eat their feast because of it, the next day. So they’re very angry. But that’s what the janitor is jumping over. And he’s excited about it. And I would be, too!”
At this point I could start gushing embarrassingly about Arone Dyer, but I’ll try to spare you most of that. Suffice to say, her voice, lyricism, and quirkiness make it pretty much impossible not to develop a schoolboy crush. She often grabs the simplest and purest sentiment—”I am afraid I’ll never wake up” or “I don’t know you, but I want you closer”—and repeats it over and over with urgency and desperation. Other times she’ll devolve into quirky, high-pitched vocal noises, like on “Red Hood Came Home,” which evokes the scene from Garden State where Sam (Natalie Portman) provides Largeman with “a completely original moment in human history.” But, I digress.
If Dyer is what makes you fall in love with Buke and Gass, it’s the work of Aron Sanchez that really throws the death hooks into you. His rapidly shifting rhythms and complex chord progressions are the structure which allows Dyer to weave her dreamy scenes. And ultimately, it’s those oddball patterns that worm their way into your head for days upon days.
Seven paragraphs into a review and I haven’t mentioned the fact that the Aron(e)s don’t play typical instrumentation. In fact, that’s from whence the band name comes: Buke for Dyer’s modified bass ukulele; Gass for Sanchez’s guitar/bass hybrid. Along with amplifiers and effects personally designed by Sanchez, the duo straps on various percussion and stomp upon a kick drum for powerful bomb-dropping accents. But describing the instrumentation almost makes them sound like a novelty act. Don’t be fooled. This is real music unencumbered by such technicalities and far more potent than most.
Riposte closes with the stellar rave-up “Outt!” The infectious “Everybody here is out-ta-getcha out-ta-getcha out-ta-getcha out-ta-getcha out-ta-getcha out-ta-getcha out-ta-getcha” pogo falls to the floor and creeps away slowly into a quirky refrain. And then, album over, you just want more.
One final sidebar: while Riposte is wonderfully recorded, I sincerely recommend picking up the +/- EP as well. It’s really the companion piece to the full-length. Where Riposte carries us over a scenic wonderland, +/- plunks us down in the room with the duo, which is where I want to be. Its recording is full, warm, raw, and immersive. In fact, my absolute favorite song of theirs is “Bundletuck,” and while both versions are great, the EP version is jaw-dropping. Don’t overlook it.
Riposte was released through Brassland on September 14. Check out the band’s website for links on how to order and tour dates. Tonight they play Salt Lake City’s Urban Lounge; on September 16, they’ll be at The Media Club in Vancouver.