Best of 2013: Buke and Gase – “General Dome”

Buke and Gase - "General Dome"
Buke and Gase – “General Dome”

I’ve been keeping a close eye on Buke and Gase for the past few years, ever since I just had to have their +/- EP in 2010. What drove me to them initially was just their timbre. It was one of those rare instances where I had never heard anything like them before. Of course everyone knows (and if you don’t then you’re about to find out) they make their own instruments. So the timbre of the baritone ukulele and guitar/bass hybrid are what first grabbed me, but after listening there was so much more waiting beneath that intriguing surface.

I noticed, on that EP, that there were several layers of rhythmic complexity going on throughout most of their songs. The way that they fluidly shifted from meter to meter and from divisions of the beat, casually coasting from one tuplet to another, causing the overall structure to slide across apparent tempo shifts. Though these shifts are only figments of our imagination, they are actually staying perfectly in tempo but only reorganizing the meter as they go. This is no small feat, as the duo are in control of the percussion while they are playing and singing. It’s like 2 one man bands in one. I think that that is actually part of the reason why there can be so much rhythmic complexity. It has to do with their embodiment of rhythm, and the music in general. Also, of course, adding to their unique sound.

And that isn’t the only thing that shifts around during their tracks, there is no telling how many times they are going to repeat an idea. A comparison can be drawn here to The New Pornographers, another band that tends toward the invention of their own structures, eschewing verse-chorus-verse and repeating everything 2 or 4 times with rigidity. And where those elements were pushed more to the fore on previous efforts like “+/-” and “Riposte” they are drawing less attention to themselves on “General Dome.” 

The title track holds steady with a high degree of intensity and a persistent ostinato rhythm, Arone Dyer’s voice soaring high above the bass heavy foundation. Building up multiple layers in a complex fabric is probably most important when approaching a single-form structure such as this one, but it remains surprisingly monotonous throughout, holding onto that intensity and maintaining it at all costs.

The duo has always been reaching out and exploring new harmonies and interesting maneuvers therein, and on this album things are no different. Remarkably protean key shifts to match the rhythmic shifting. For example, “Twisting the Lasso of Truth” can’t settle on a rhythmic structure at all. The meter shifts, the accents change faster than one can grasp the pattern with which they do so, and the harmony resists focusing on a single pitch center. The song is in a constant state of flux, making it, to me, one of the strongest and most interesting on the album.

Twisting the Lasso of Truth

“Split Like a Lip, No Blood on the Beard” picks up these exact cues. The denial of verse-chorus-verse structure is strong on this track, as is a similar denial of engagement with a steady, regular pulse. Dyer’s vocals vacillate between sweet and soulful, and clipped and tense, sliding from major to minor in alternating phrases, giving an interesting shade to the melody.

Split Like a Lip, No Blood on the Beard

None of these elements are allowed to fall into the trap of becoming highly recognizable “tricks” that the band employs liberally in each song. The focus is more upon the structure as a whole and not so much just the parts that make it up. But those parts are really interesting, everything from the unique sound to their individualistic use of rhythm and song form.

You can hear most all of their work (not the +/- EP, unfortunately) on their bandcamp page. All their albums are available on cd, lp or mp3 and all are available from the bandcamp link.