To indie bands, a DIY ethos is worn like a badge of honour, representative of the efforts that have transpired from breaking away from the machine and making progress on their own terms. But then there’s Buke And Gase, the New York duo to whom DIY transcends the mere process of making music, and rather, encapsulates the work of a band who’ve created their own unique instruments to create their music with. The importance of that factor isn’t exactly downplayed either, especially when the band name comes from two such creations, with the buke being a six-string ukulele and the gase being a guitar / bass hybrid. Naturally, it’s made this duo virtually irresistible within the indie scene, and with support slots for the likes of Tomahawk, Swans and Shellac already under their belt, Buke And Gase’s reputation within rock’s weirder, more avant-garde circles already seems to be set.
Granted, that doesn’t have much – if any – bearing on the music itself, and when it’s derived from homemade instruments that deliberately seem to be defying convention when it comes to the creative process, the question mark hanging over their head couldn’t be more prominent. Sure, the fact that Scholars is the duo’s third album is indicative of them doing something right, but it’s not like consistency is a given for a band like this. The general direction this album heads in is enough evidence for that, picking up a newfound affinity for electronica to an extent that’s made their pair of eponymous instruments more or less redundant and resulted in an almost oxymoronic sense of refinement; for one, Scholars has a great sense of individuality and definition that never wavers, but that comes from largely repurposing their typically shaggy, homegrown sound instead of replacing it.
It’s also made plain that this is the first time that electronics have played a role of this magnitude within Buke And Gase’s sound, mostly because Scholars feels like a full-length experiment to see what they can get away with, the result being often awkward and fragmented but frequently imaginative canvas of squelching synths and baggy, off-kilter percussion. As such, Scholars reaches pockets of quality through merely stumbling around to see what it can happen upon, an approach with an obvious lack of coherency but never so much to make this a bad album. Sure, the gnarled, messy thuds of the title track and Wrong Side or Arone Dyer’s vocals on Temporary which sound like they were recorded entirely with an electrolarynx feel like purely bad artistic decisions, but there’s something about the steady, creeping synth-horns on Derby or the rounded snap and shuffle of Flock that points towards a band hitting a stride that suits them, particularly with how well this wonkier approach fits with the heavier abstraction in the writing. Above all, Scholars feels like an album that’s in the midst of deciding what it wants to be instead of settling on something concrete, though it’s easy to pull out where the better ideas tend to fall. Typically tracks like Pink Boots or Eternity which are grounded in deeper fragments of organic instrumentation fare better, if only because they feel more structurally sound with a prominent low end, but like almost everything about this album, it’s not a consistent feature, and the end result will be substantially improved when it becomes one.
That said, for what is effectively an attempt at stepping into hitherto unexplored ground with a plan that seems to amount to little more than see what works, Scholars definitely has its moments that prove how much mileage Buke And Gase could get out of it. The fact that this feels more natural than so many other rock bands hinging on electronica in recent times is one thing, but for as difficult as it can be to eke out a consistently enjoyable or even quality product, Scholars at least shows its ideas and willingness to put the work in to make itself stand out. Even if it doesn’t always come to fruition, that can be appreciated enough to stick with Buke And Gase to see what they might have in store next.
For fans of: Battles, Tune-Yards, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Scholars’ by Buke And Gase is released on 18th January on Brassland Records.