Album Review: Vundabar – Smell Smoke

Vundabar’s Smell Smoke, out February 23, is addictingly dark post-punk. With sticky melodies that needle their way into your brain and nearly-chaotic guitar riffs, there’s a grunginess and a melancholy energy on each cathartic track that leaves you wanting more.

artworks-000238695826-rr37un-t500x500Vundabar tears its way through ten riveting rock songs on Smell Smoke, beginning with “Acetone”. Bright chords and melancholy lyrics pose a stark contrast on this track as well as nearly every other, and it’s like a cool spring day with sunshine and rain at the same time; between pretty melodies and heavy-handed guitar, there’s something about this album that makes my chest ache the way it does after I’ve been crying.

That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of tenderness buried among the gritty post-punk music, however. “Tar Tongue” is light and colorful, like stained-glass windows, and feels exhausted after ripping through the first two songs. “Diver” reminds me of a phrase I use to describe my worst days–underwater days–with anguish-inducing lines like, “I am a diver ’cause I couldn’t take the air.”

Immediately after these moments, however, Vundabar is back to the same twisting, jittery rock sound. It is simultaneously cathartic and incredibly vulnerable; the guitar screeches behind resonating bass lines and tight drums as frontman Brandon Hagen croons–or shouts–intensely heartbreaking lyrics on top of it all.

For an instant near the end, Smell Smoke feels reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel on “Hold A Light”, the second-to-last track that provides a gasping breath of air before diving back underneath the heavy guitar again. It’s lo-fi and a little folky, and although it should stick out among the other rock tracks, the transition is seamless before returning to the same gritty, grungy post-punk sound on “A Man Loses A Hat”.

Photo by Rebecca Wnuk.

Vundabar balances hard-hitting rock with nervous vulnerability on Smell Smoke, and it’s far too easy to get sucked in before you even know what hit you. It makes sense, after all; the album is a product of Hagen burying his insecurities and fears until he collapsed in on himself–something with which many of us are familiar. This new attempt at openness on Smell Smoke results in a gut-wrenchingly intense post-punk record that will leave you with melodies stuck in your head and an ache resonating in your chest.


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