Vundabar: Either Light (Gawk) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, July 6th, 2020  

Vundabar

Either Light

Gawk

May 20, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


When light enters water its participles become suspended. The once blaring glow begins to fade, the colors change, and its rays diffuse, losing much of its original impact. When this refraction occurs, Vundabar songwriter Brandon Hagen wonders on the band’s new album, Either Light, where does the light go? And more importantly: how can I capture it? 

On earlier albums such as Antics and Gawk, the duo (which also features Drew McDonald) nestled comfortably in the brash, more DIY punk rock niche alongside artists like Cloud Nothings and Titus Andronicus. But 2017’s Smell Smoke was the mark of a new era, or more accurately, a stride into a more synthesized and buoyant expression of despair. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. Smell Smoke was written after Hagen’s four-year experience of taking care of a loved one in declining health. The album was consumed with the inevitability of death and the abusive relationship between capitalism and the American dream. Either Light isn’t much different: it’s the digestion of what Smell Smoke served. 

On Either Light, Vundabar fills in the woeful complexities of Smell Smoke with even more colorful melodies, catchy riffs, and lush production. But, while drowning in the murky and confusing glass half-empty paradox of life, on this go around, Hagen finally decides to follow the light. 

Although Either Light ruminates with some heavy motifs, the songs aren’t particularly dense. Quite frankly, they’re rather sparse as no song reaches a full four minutes. But the instrumentation is what allows Vundabar to transcend. For the first time, Vundabar brought in a producer: Patrick Hyland of Mitski fame. They also widened the band by reuniting with touring bassist Zackery Abramo and adding vocals from Emily Massey of Slow Pulp. Whether it’s from the addition of sequencers, vibraphones, synths, or drum machines, Either Light feels tighter, brighter, and lighter than anything they’ve ever done before. 

While writing the album, Hagen noted that he watched The Sopranos two times over. “He’s the ugliness and the underbelly of capitalism and our culture,” Hagen said. Tony himself even gets a nod in the lament of a friend’s overdose on “Codeine”—“Fade to black and close the act/Cuz Tony is not coming back/Sing, trading time for kindness.”  

According to Vundabar, abiding to a capitalistic formula will, spoiler alert (I mean it’s been thirteen years at this point), lead you to have a similar fate to that of Tony Soprano: you’ll have a defunct bank account, a lifeless soul, and you’ll inevitably end up just plain dead (although for Tony that might be debatable). But, the implied meaning here is our economic apparatus is disgustingly flawed: you have to work to live; you have to work to die. It’s hard to find the light when you’re left in the dark to fend for yourself. On “Burned Off,” Hagen sings over a xylophone-infused beat “I was the wretched rail that takes the train away/To chase elusive dollar on some breathless day.” Involuntarily, Hagen is providing the fuel—or the actual infrastructure that capitalism needs to run. All because he needs to feed himself with the “elusive dollar.” Similarly, “Montage Music” is a jittery, opening-credits coming of age song that depicts the cyclical yet degenerative pattern of consumerism. All you need is “A brand new soul and a new set of clothes,” to make you “whole again,” Hagen sings.  

Like capitalism, cars are another recurring image throughout Either Light. On the hook-driven “Petty Crime” Hagen grabs the keys and takes “this Lincoln for a ride down 93.” Life is a journey, sure. But where is Hagen going? What’s the end game? And who’s driving the car? 

At the end of our exploration we arrive at the two most gentle and noticeably quieter songs on the album, “Other Flowers” and “Wax Face.” Here we find sweet harmonies on “Other Flowers” while “Ben” peaks “for light through a keyhole” trying to find out if “other flowers grow.” Shockingly, they do. And with this realization, Hagen laughs “so hard [he] sheds a tear” on “Wax Face.” There is beauty within the morbid, Hagen realizes. There are specks of brightness—subtle moments of purity. In a story, or a life, full of betrayal and greed, there are moments where hope is possible—you just have to follow the light. (www.vundabar.bandcamp.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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