Review Summary: Exciting, unique, rollicking off-kilter pop from two maniacs who invented their own instruments and didn't stop there.
The first song on Riposte
, "Medulla Oblongata", opens and closes with what I believe are its first and last instances of an undistorted stringed instrument. For the rest of it, singer Arone Dyer's baritone ukelele (or "buke") and Aron Sanchez's guitar/bass hybrid ("gass") have their various outputs piped through pedals busily generating what Sanchez called "the loudest miniature fuzz" in the Radiolab interview that seems to account for about 50% of Buke and Gase's fanbase. Between the clattering, ominous minor chord that opens "Medulla Oblongata" and its reappearance at the track's end, there's a pretty good sample of what Buke and Gase are all about
: two people with instruments that sound kind of like your standard guitar and bass but also kind of not; a motley arsenal of foot-powered percussion; and one strident, urgent, elastic voice, all deployed to make more of a racket than you'd have thought possible from two people in the service of something you could call pop music.
Let's be real clear here: Buke and Gase may have named their band after the unconventional instruments they constructed themselves, and they may have gotten a lot of attention for same, but the songs they play with them would be striking, energetic, unique and catchy as hell even if played on bog-standard Guitar Center kit. It would just take at least three or four people and probably a hell of a lot of re-tuning. They do not use their fancy weirdo instruments as an excuse to kick back and write boring songs.
The standout run of tracks -- I really can't pick just one -- with the perfect mix of off-kilter dissonance, frenetic syncopation and straightforward foot-stomping blasts of rock is probably
the incredible trio of "Naked Cities", "Sleep Gets Your Ghost" and "Revel In Contempt", but it's probably possible to argue for the end-run of "Bundletuck", "Page Break" and "Outt!" too. Hell, I wouldn't laugh at anyone who wanted to make a case for the first three tracks either. All are just endlessly surprising, angular and varied without ever sacrificing listenability, and while I find most of Arone's lyrics to be fairly indecipherable, the ones I do hear are striking in their itchy, wide-eyed and slightly obsessive tone. "When will you get better / so I can sew our lips together?" she sings in the opening lines of "Medulla Oblongata", and follows it up with "Ghost on my tongue in between sleep / I am afraid I'll never wake up" in "Sleep Gets Your Ghost" and, later, "These days you're waking up in a bundle of orgasm" and "I know you're searching for something less psychological" in "Bundletuck". All have an undercurrent of anxiety and mental unease or even neurosis that suits the other goings-on perfectly.
So let's do the math. Riposte
has 14 tracks. Any of the nine I just mentioned would be standouts on a less consistently amazing album. Three -- "Neurosis And Her Sisters", "Horse Head Nebula" and "Heart" -- are short throwaways, mostly tuneless interludes that help break up what some might call a homogeneity of palette. That leaves us with a paltry two bona fide songs that are less than stellar, and that's just my personal opinion as a guy who thinks Buke and Gase do rollicking a lot better than contemplative. But still, just listen to the shot in the arm "Red Hood Came Home", one of those "weaker" tracks, gets when the tempo picks up in its second half and Arone starts alternating between pitching a fit and effortlessly belting out some of her highest notes on the album.
Weaknesses? Well, the first half of "Red Hood Came Home" drags a bit, as does most all of "Immoral But Just Fine, Okay", which keeps acting like it's building up to a catharsis ("Waiting is hard, I know," sings Arone) that never comes. They might actually be good breathers if some odd sequencing hadn't dumped them along with all three of the interludes in the second half of the album, but as it is there's a bit of a moody, difficult stretch after the firestorm of "Revel in Contempt". And while I can't seem to get enough of the morsels Riposte
serves up, I have to admit they basically come in two flavors, sonically: buke and gass. If you don't like those flavors, or you don't think the exhilarating and inventive ways in which they're used disguise the lack of variety at their core, you might not be thrilled with Riposte
or, indeed, much of anything else this band has gotten up to since.
If you can look past those quibbles though -- and you may not even have to; I had to struggle to come up with them -- you will find plenty to love in Riposte
. Like much of the best music, it may perplex you at first like it did me. But give it a few more spins and it will start to get its hooks into you.