Review Summary: A strange and fidgety album that is guaranteed to evade umbrella classification.Scholars
does everything it can to not be caught. We always want to compartmentalize music, and “indie” is a vague catchall for odd creations like this. However, Buke and Gase are so much more than your average indie-rock outfit. Everything from this Brooklyn duo is improvisational, boasting big beats that turn on a dime to match wits with unpredictable rhythms and vocal melodies. The group even employs custom handmade instruments, ranging from a baritone-ukulele (a buke
) to a guitar-bass hybrid (a gase
). There’s nothing ordinary about their music, which is a fact that’s practically beaten into the listener from the start.
It’s an easy trap for an experimental band to fall into – to overexpress its unique personality at the expense of the music’s listenability. But that’s what makes Buke and Gase so special; now on their third full-length, they’ve accessed that ever-elusive sweet spot between interesting and enjoyable. From the second half of ‘Stumbler’ – where a dense psychedelic atmosphere suddenly evolves into a bouncy, off-kilter rhythm – it’s as strange of a ride as you’ll ever experience from beginning to end. ‘Scholars’ marries high frequency percussion with panoramic vocals before ‘Derby’ excitedly sprinkles brass into the soundscape. ‘Pink Boots’ bursts onto the scene with electric guitar licks and a more vocal-centric approach structured around Arone Dyer’s self-harmonized crescendo choruses, all before doing a trust fall into ‘Temporary’ – this entirely robotic mini-track that somehow feels warm and cuddly. The main thing that remains consistent throughout is the emphatic, stomping drum beats – which serve as the main driving force behind Scholars
. With that said, the rest of the music unfolds like a round of instrumental mad libs.
As the album progresses into its back half, it presents some of its strongest individual tunes. There are bitter undertones on ‘Wrong Side’, where Dyer sings “your right is wrong for me” atop thumping beats before the song transforms into a sea of electronic effects and high-pitched falsetto humming. ‘Grips’ has a swagger not found elsewhere on the record, this almost sassy to-and-fro tempo lifted from bluesy electric chords and Arone’s most confident vocal delivery yet. ‘No Land’ is Scholars
’ most potent lyrical statement, an observation of how we treat ourselves like royalty by dismissing suffering and destruction…unless it affects us directly. It’s a rather serious thematic turn placed directly at the end of the record; perhaps an intentional maneuver to make the message even harder to ignore. It’s just further proof that Buke and Gase know exactly what they want to say, even if the music is scattershot.
Often, the genius of Scholars
is too short-lived – these flashes in the pan that dissipate as the eclectic nature of the album carries the music in another direction. It can make for a frustrating experience at times, especially when you wish that they’d extend a particularly interesting moment, or perhaps cut out a section that drags on for too long. That’s the drawback to an album like this; a topsy turvy thirty-eight minutes of wide-ranging instrumental, vocal, and lyrical themes. It’s worth the occasional frustration though, delivering a largely “different” record that is guaranteed not to fade into that dreaded, muddled pool of indie artists that are all fairly derivative. As Buke and Gase ebb and flow from one creative whim to the next, Scholars
marks one of the oddest and most intriguing albums of the early year.