BUMMER – dead horse – VINYL LP (black)VINYL LP (black)thrill jockey records2021
Kansas City trio BUMMER mirror the absurdity of modern life with a balance of dark humor, dejected nihilism and righteous fury. Their music spills out in torrents of skull-crushing riffs, gargantuan bass and caustic howls delivered at breakneck speed with gleeful abandon. Following their split 7” with longtime friends The Body which teased a more focused, lean sound for the group, Dead Horse hones BUMMER’s auditory desolation and scathing gaze to laser-point precision. In eleven short vignettes the trio lay waste to everything in their path, penning a vitriolic overview of life in the American Midwest, a surprising blend of one-star Trip Advisor review and insightful cultural critique.
BUMMER’s searing music and self-deprecating sense of humor are steeped in their surroundings. Born and raised in Kansas City, vocalist/guitarist Matt Perrin elaborates: “These songs are influenced by how empty and miniscule life in Kansas can be and the stories that come from it.” From the opioid epidemic to the dust bowl and extraterrestrial encounters, themes recur of entrapment and failed escapes. On the aptly titled “Barn Burner (You Boys Quit Whippin’ Those Whips),” Perrin grapples with a deep-set disillusionment with his hometown atop blistering, splintered riffs. The wreckingball groove of “I Want To Punch Bruce Springsteen in the Dick »s lurches and swings like a pendulum of pure contempt, lamenting environmental devastation ravaged upon Kansas from years of over-farming and overproduction (alongside less subtle messages about their feelings towards The Boss). “Quadruple ZZ Top” repurposes FDR’s infamous quote about the Dust Bowl’s destruction “What the sun left, the grasshoppers took” in a corrosive whirlpool that thrashes in every direction. “E1M1” turns the group’s gaze skyward, inspired by the alleged repeated UFO sightings reported by a 19th century mill worker, while “Kid Spock” draws from Tom Goldwin’s science fiction short “The Cold Equations”. Finding little respite even in the usual escape of space and science fiction, Dead Horse’s relentless bludgeon brings into focus the harsh realities of the American dream and the places left behind by the ravages of capitalism.
In spite of its often weighty subject material and darker textures, Dead Horse is unapologetically fun. Written during lockdown in the trio’s practice space and recorded with Justin Mantooth at Westend Recording Studios in Kansas City, Dead Horse was written as a more collective endeavour than the band’s previous outings. It captures the sheer ecstasy and blunt force of the group’s live shows in greater clarity than ever before. The immediately intoxicating “JFK Speedwagon” sets the tempo for the album, hurtling through Mike Gustafson’s thundering bass breaks and guest vocals from Sean Ingram of Coalesce (who also features on “Juice Pig”), providing a perfect counterpoint to Perrin’s acidic guitar and desperate shout. “I Want To Punch…” and “E1M1” take the foot of the pedal for a split second, cruising through caveman mosh and pummelling sludge. On “Donkey Punch”, drummer Sam Hutchinson’s hypnotic groove and Perrin’s freewheeling guitars threaten to spiral out of control at any moment, pushing up to fever pitch as Perrin trades tortured howls with Portrayal of Guilt’s Matt King. “Magic Cruel Bus” lulls the listener into a false sense of security with a lilting blues guitar opening before erupting into rolling waves of distortion.
Dead Horse is a decisive statement from a band at the height of their powers, a masterclass in eviscerating hooks and incisive takedowns. With their Thrill Jockey debut album, BUMMER’s unflinching reminder of just how gruelling life can be is coupled with a cathartic riff driven explosion of energy. BUMMER offers an escape and a solution: headbang through the bad times.