19 Jul 2024
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Sam Bambery - Album Review: Rubricator

16 May 2024 // A review by Samantha Cheong

"A ‘rubricator’ was a copyist or scribe in the Middle Ages, whose role was to etch rubrics and eye-catching typography (typically in red ink) to signify important passages of a book such as changes in time, concept or setting. Sam Bambery’s second studio album of the same name captures the anxiety and intricacies living in a “postmodern world where nothing is truly new, just our individual expression”. Today’s sheer amount of content creators and modern scribes makes the brevity of attention ever more scarce and hard to come by. Bambery, nonetheless, manages to etch a new mark in crimson red, literally in his vinyl variant and figuratively in his sublime concept album. Produced with De Stevens and engineered by Thomas Isbister, co-writer Hannah Everingham and backing vocalist Mackenzie Hollebon (Juno Is) also lend their musical hands to Bambery’s indie-rock record of experimental instrumentation, which, to me, pays off in spades.

24.01 fades in, builds up and flashes some intriguing rhyming plus memorable harmony on guitar. Bambery has a romantic voice, which, along with some bass that thrusts us forward, aches to be noticed by his “darling”.

I agree with Bambery that The Burnout can be described as having a “dissociative groove”. A sighing riff glides across what I assume to be a pedal steel guitar. Pitched-down congas make this surf psychedelia piece memorable and oh so catchy. More vocal variation could be more imaginative on top of the repetitive chords, but it is a memorable track. Although the intervals in the solo section felt delightfully bluesy, I found myself aching for a more dominant presence that could even be shorter in duration. This sentiment falls on my more deaf hips though, which would sway to this song regardless. A spoken section at the end, perhaps through an intercom, was another way for Bambery to leave a mark as a self-declared rubricator.

Life In Tandem feels almost like a sequel to The Burnout, the rippling modulation on the lead guitar adds dimension to its texture. In a welcome change of feeling, Mountain and Me arpeggiates outward before taking a droning and downbeat heavy turn.

Bambery described his single Parasite to be about his “past selves and how [he feels] about them now”. It shares the glissando feeling of The Burnout. This is a standout track, which, like a good book, ages well with time. Space left by the simple vocal melody works well, especially as the shifting timbre and lyrics offer vivid emotion and imagery, respectively. The restrained vocals are elusive and intriguing, and the misaligned guitar bending works well to add a splash of chaos to the mystery. Drummer Sam White extends the musical metaphor by using the glass of a hot sauce bottle.

A killer first line, “Does a rosebud get a panic attack?” enters us into Spring. Personifying the season of abundance through the lens of existentialism, Bambery’s writing abilities flourish and send forth buds of musical pleasure. Delicate percussion beats behind folky acoustic guitar and the patient and muted piano.

Tricks of Light has a sound or soul reminiscent of the Western howl of D.C. Maxwell in his exploration of masculinity and identity. Surprisingly, its percussion takes from trip hop and keeps us on our toes further.

With an atmospheric soundscape potentially comprised of vibraphone and pedal steel guitar, Doctor contains pleasant harmonies by Juno Is (Mackenzie Hollebon) backing Bambery. When sudden Afrobeats kick in, I forget the original groove and may require a physician or watchmaker to check my inner clock later, to tell me that “I’m alive”—as Bambery sings in the song. Doctor makes me envision Frankenstein’s monster and Bella from the recent Poor Things movie. Both books and their modern film adaptations question the purpose or extent of human existence, of maker and mould. I like the disorienting nature of this postmodern piece, which admittedly took some listens to better grasp.

Lamenting in its fearful thoughts of doom before flipping towards rock n’ roll and back again, Uncertain starts off in the same vein as its moniker. Compared to the following closer Myself, Vindicated, Uncertain switches gears in an obvious way. On the other hand, the closer brings forth emotional movement and change through its lyrics. The thematic instability of Rubricator overall, however, eases in its two-minute finale, where I imagine reasoning and meaning might go off the page altogether.

 

About Sam Bambery

Otautahi based songwriter Sam Bambery sits at the intersection between deep-hearted folk and edgy, thoughtful indie rock. His songs take the often introspective and personal road, championing both the heartbroken pessimist and the gleeful showman that dwells within him.

Having cut his teeth in the Garden City’s wide music scene, Bambery brings an assortment of influences to his work including Wilco, Steve Gunn, Sharon Van Etten. His band, The Sucrose Kids, is an ever-evolving arrangement of local musicians that approach his folksy, exploratory songs with a modern, artistic sensibility.

Having recorded alongside De Stevens (Marlin’s Dreaming, Asta Rangu), Sam Bambery aims to release his debut album Songs About Sailors on the 24th of March 2022.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Sam Bambery

Releases

Rubricator
Year: 2024
Type: Album
Songs About Sailors
Year: 2022
Type: Album

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