Crooked hanging pictures are a great psychological test, eliciting different responses from people. Some need to straighten anything askew. Some notice, feel bothered, but don’t feel empowered to do anything about it. Some don’t see it at all. And some quietly nod in approval, jealous of the hung work’s iconoclasm. It works as a test because we all agree there’s a way pictures should hang; we disagree on the importance of enforcing the norm. Bananagun’s The
True Story of Bananagun hangs at a fun angle thanks to its absurd mix of 60s psychedelia, funky rhythms, and charmingly weird vocals. It doesn’t line up the bubbles on a level, but does light up different parts of your brain.
Bananagun is an Australian five-piece that at times sounds like it’s the size of Parliament-Funkadelic. Nick van Bakel, singer/guitarist/flautist, took the concept from home demos to real- life band, creating a sound that, upon first listen, is familiar, but as you dig deeper, makes you
realize is completely different. You’ll hear something like a 1960s-style organ on a track and immediately orient yourself to that era. But then a wah guitar comes in and you’re pushed all the way into the 1970s. Each element can be attached to a specific time and genre, but they’re used interchangeably throughout songs, like a top-notch record collection broken and then glued into one new, giant album.
“Out of Reach” is disco paired with 50s vocals. Van Bakel’s voice is the song’s heart and beauty. Where other artists might create lovely, authentic-sounding backing tracks like this and then try to alter their vocal style accordingly, van Bakel uses his natural voice, Australian accent and all. The result is a track that sounds like overhearing an incredible singer performing in the shower. It’s relentlessly upbeat music, an untiringly positive vocal, and lyrics about someone’s love being out of reach. None of the pieces match and all of the pieces match. “Mushroom Bomb” is more of a 70s-influenced funk beat with trippy, reverb-coated vocals, almost like Strawberry Alarm Clock fronting a great funk-rock band, complete with a “Star-Spangled Banner” quote, an odd move, perhaps, for an Australian band, but practically required for late 60s psychedelia.
Van Bakel’s excellent guitar playing allows the band to skip through genres. This is a surprisingly guitar-heavy pop album. Not in an endless metal soloing kind of way, but in that there are lots of guitar breaks. No matter how dense songs get, from bongos to horns, the foundation of every track is van Bakel’s guitar. There’s an emphasis on musicianship throughout the album, with many tunes featuring long instrumental breaks. These segues aren’t to prove prowess, but feel more like lost, traditional bridges designed to change a song’s energy before heading back into the final verse and chorus.
The True Story of Bananagun slowly creeps into your blood. It’s accessible and fun, so the first listens are easy. But as you listen more, you begin to appreciate the different grooves, between songs, but also within them. It’s an album that’s tough to categorize which is what makes it enjoyable. It’s a crooked picture that shouldn’t be straightened.
review by Steven Ovadia
The True Story of Bananagun by Bananagun comes out on June 26, via Full Time Hobby