I first met Vundabar in Middlebury, Vermont last fall where they were headlining Saturday night of Middlebury College’s start-of-school festival. By the time the warm-up acts finished playing, a cold, steady drizzle had begun to fall on Middlebury’s Motor Lawn. Vundabar cracked jokes, played a borrowed bass guitar, broke strings and had the damp crowd moshing right through to the end of their set.
On July 24th, the trio released their sophomore effort Gawk, a delightful follow-up to their 2013 debut LP Antics. From the major arpeggios of the lead single ‘Chop’ to the minor pentatonic ostinato of ‘Bust,’ the band hasn’t lost touch with the “sludgy jangle” of Antics. It’s refreshing to hear that the band hasn’t prescribed to the constant double forte texture of most modern power trios either. The riffs of Gawk ring out over frequent and tasteful dynamic changes throughout. There is less variation in the timbres of the record, though that’s not to say that the sounds we hear don’t hold the listeners attention. Vocalist and guitarist Brandon Hagen is fond of plucking out the same melody he‘s singing to create a combination Stratocaster/slacker lead singer hyper-instrument.
‘Oulala’ is a slow-churning, overdriven, dagger of a song. Hagen’s vocal delivery shuffles back and forth from a condescending staccato to deadpan falsetto. Content trumps everything on this record, and that chorus melody is undeniable. Since I started working in music licensing last semester, I can’t help but listen to new music without considering how it might fare in the world of film/TV synchronization. The transparent lyrics of ‘Worn/Wander’ recount an indecisive traveler which when paired with the track’s nonchalant groove, sound to me like the song would do well in a Levi’s commercial. For the record, that isn’t meant as a knock to Vundabar at all. In The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture, Timothy Taylor describes how emerging musicians now seek advertising/film licenses for their music as an alternative form of distribution in the face of declining sales and airplay. Exactly how effective sync is at distributing new music is debatable but I digress. The point is if Vundabar doesn’t have a publishing deal yet, I can’t imagine that one is far off for them.
Gawk speaks for itself. Not one track is out of place. Don’t let the surf rock vibe fool you; every move on the album is deliberate. Vundabar has been on a nearly endless tour so far this year and I do recommend seeing them live. Check out the rest of their summer tour dates and buy/stream the record on their bandcamp. There’s also a facebook you can keep up with, duh.