“229” – ‘The Bavarian Druglords’ [Joint Review]
Under the same self-proclaimed label Kill Art Movement, ‘The Bavarian Druglords’ return a year later after the successful release of their debut, “205”, with highly-anticipated follow-up album “229”. A shaky year in the making, “229” retains their characteristically noteworthy psychedelic, lo-fi rock. Mired in its subsonic throbs, static distortion, underpinning riffs and hazy, shoegaze-esque vocals, with its inception we quickly coined the term: hollow rock.
While “229” is no “Lemonade City” by offhand comparison, the core foundations of “205” have seamlessly been carried-over from one to the other in a sort of foetal, pre-biotic transference. Distinction to be found only within the albums themselves, “205” and “229” are inseparably linked in a symbiotic glow. Both are so vital, necessary. And yet, apart they shrivel. Such a harsh context means they need each other.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York City, ‘The Bavarian Druglords’ belongs to brainchild of the band and label, Syed Druglord. The release of their debut “205” back March ’09 caught my attention with soul-splitting tracks like “Monza”, “Goldsoul” and “37c Sniper”. A song-commentary for “229” can be found here – its track-by-track explanation is invaluable to listeners. Previously, artists like ‘Artefacts For Space Travel’ first led me to a redefinition of the genre lo-fi. ‘… Druglords’ similarly intensified this feeling. Simply because there was lo-fi, and then there was this. Lo-fi on the cusp of shoegaze, without all the stereotypical accompaniments indicative of such; post-rock, instrumental, etc. It was fresh and experimental, but it was relatively devoid of any real soloing guitar I might associate with ‘Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ or “The Mars Volta”. Instead, these tidy, repetitive riffs ingrain themselves within my mind; over and over. I called it hollow rock; and I haven’t used this definition for, really, any other artists since. It belongs to them…
“229” echoes “205”; their mirrored style is uncannily alike. Introductory track “Great Ape” is as memorably effective as “Lemonade City”. But where their shared-identities differ are in the tracks themselves. Here, individuality becomes much more noticeable; tracks don’t bleed casually from one to the next. They are overwhelmed by change. From progressive gradation to complete overhaul, a dominating guitar riff will subsequently be subdued by an undercutting bass line. Lyrics enthralled in distortion will clear momentarily before sinking back into instrumental obfuscation. But at the heart of all ‘… Druglords’ lies a riff so exquisitely strung, air-guitar is inevitable.
Break out the invisible plectrum.
Floating around the forty-minute mark, “229” feels relatively short-lived. Like “205”, its primary strength resides in its replay-value. Its multi-layered nuance cannot be fully explored – and thus appreciated – in a single run-through. There’s just too much. Whether you’re listening to the riff at one minute, or trying (with varying degrees of success) to make out the lyrics beneath, it feels like you’re hearing another song altogether. You throw yourself into this initially unheard undercurrent of subliminal composition; the brain behind the heart. Then on your fourth, or your fifth – or however many times it takes for you to make it all out – you put it all back together again. And you can hear it all, together again; and it sounds even better.
“Great Ape” opens for “229”, and is perhaps the most “205”-nostalgic; the same clean-cut sound, distortion at its minimal. The undividable guitar/drum-kit-percussion combination yields a tickle of guitar fortified with hissing, top-hat-heavy percussion together with fuzzy, background bass. The fundamentals. Guitar breaks out in between the ethereal-vocal chorus’, tearing apart the repetitive, doleful opening. Smooth and surprisingly sophisticated, it quickly dies away like the end of a record for the introduction of “The Film Rolls”. A lower key in attitude, it maintains the aforementioned instrumental relationship. Percussion plays a central role in developing the track, rolling forth, strutting beat after beat in anticipation of the vocals, which shift mysteriously from side to side, evocating midnight wanderings, meandering purposelessly before being swallowed up in the percussion. Here, vocals play a more active role, as they materialise and dematerialise in and out of nowhere.
Tracks like “Mille Miglia”, “Blackmail” and “Kill Art” have heavier influences. Riffs are darker, lower in key. Vocals are likewise, sheathed in music. It’s like we’re being pulled along on a string as we search for their meaning. And yet, we’re distracted by the movements of the music, distracted by the rhythmic pulsing of percussion, bass. Lost in all the distortion, taut with confusion. “Leisure” epitomises this feeling and then envelops us in a dreary, monotone bubble of leisurely despair. It’s like being stuck in a glass room; the music simply passes us by. With the arrival of “Leaf”, it’s like returning to the surface after being submerged in all that static sludge. Deep breath; senses sharpen, vision returns. The poignant utterance of the phrase:
You’re a leaf off a tree no one can find…
The mix of high/low riffs partnered with subsonic percussion help undercut the airy vocals, dispersing any leftover distortion. All of it helps brings us back to the world…
This was the one album Highly Evolved pulled a switch-a-roonie on: instead of being asked to review it, we asked Syed. And well worth the wait, we eagerly anticipate “301” to have as much (if not, more) flare than its predecessors. While no follow-up is without its drawbacks, “229” delivers on-par with its counterpart “205”. It’s just, well – I had a whole year to fall in love with “205”. I’m still only finding out about “229” and all of its eccentricities.
Reviewer’s Pick: “Leaf”
Stand-out Tracks: “Great Ape”, “The Film Rolls”, “Groove Alone”, “Blackmail”, “Kill Art”, “Leaf”
The Enantiomorphic God.