There’s a new band on the prog block: Birzer Bandana, which is Progarchy’s own Brad Birzer (lyrics) and Salander’s Dave Bandana (music and performance). According to Brad’s liner notes, his lyrics were jumpstarted by the science fiction classic A Canticle For Leibowitz, and the opening track, “Awash”, definitely conjures up images of a post-nuclear wasteland.
Awash in light, bathed and comforted
Head… deadly, deadly, deadly heat
Burns the skin and the retinas
Irradiated skies baptize the earth.
Bandana’s music is appropriately somber and evocative of someone trudging through desert sands. Olga Kent’s beautiful violin lends an exotic air.
Things pick up a bit in the second song, “Dance”. I love Bandana’s double-tracked vocals here, and the combination of acoustic guitar, hand percussion (tabla?), Kent’s bewitching violin, and some classic-era prog organ make for a terrific track. Imagine late-period Beatles collaborating with Pink Floyd, and you get an idea of how this one sounds.
“3 To 1” features Mick Bennett on guitar, and it also has a distinct Floydian feel. Birzer’s lyrics are almost sacramental, in the same way Talk Talk’s music is from Spirit of Eden:
From Three, Three Into one
It becomes whole
Three into one
It becomes whole
“Wretched, Part I” is my favorite of the album. I’m a sucker for well-constructed space music, and the first four minutes conjure up a bleak, austere landscape through massed synthesizers. Think of Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner and Antarctica, you’ll have a sense of the power of this track. The lyrics complement the soundscape perfectly:
The scars, the burning fire
Desiccated, irradiated, purgated
Why must he be the one?
“Scenes” is the most straight-forward rock song of the album, and it’s very catchy. The ghosts of late-70s’ discos show up to bop and hop while Bandana sings of the pressure to conform:
All neat and in rows
Rows, rows, perpendicular rows
All the same Conformity
Conformity for the sake of avarice
“Wretched” makes another appearance in “Wretched, Part II”, and it is a nice little ELP-style jam with swirling synths and driving rhythm.
The album closes with the upbeat “Incarnate”. A bouncy piano riff is the foundation for a thoroughly enjoyable tune. However, there are hidden depths to this deceptively catchy ditty, as Bandana’s intertwining vocal harmonies sing of
The flesh becomes the word
The image is the whole
The final three minutes of this song are a perfect way to end the album, as Bandana plays a guitar solo that builds and builds as it ascends. It doesn’t lack a single note nor waste a superfluous one; it reminds me of Vaughan Williams’ small masterpiece, The Lark Ascending.
When all is said and done, Becoming One is a very solid and enjoyable offering from Birzer Bandana. I love the instrumental nods to ’70s prog, while staying firmly in the 21st century. Birzer’s lyrics are dark and dystopian, but throughout there are glimmers of hope, and album ends on an inspiringly uplifting note. I hope this is the first of many projects from Birzer Bandana – the prog world is much richer for their presence.
You can stream Becoming One at the Birzer Bandana BandCamp page. You can even name your own price to purchase a digital download!