Bands that become complacent tend to bore me after a while. The bands that I find the most interesting are those that are always challenging themselves. The ones that are not afraid to take risks and change things up. The bands willing to take the musical roads less traveled and see where it goes. No band epitomizes this more than than Pioneer the Eel and their amazing new album Bunkers.
Their 2016 self-titled debut was a fascinating, experimental, and minimalist yet powerful album that was not like anything else coming out at the time. Vocalist/guitarist Victor Fernandes, guitarist Craig Monaco and drummer Wayne Green created not only one of the most creative records of that year but one of the best. One listen to initial single “Jazz Cigarette” and you knew this was something new and wonderful. So what did Pioneer the Eel do for new album Bunkers? For starters they added two NJ music veterans to the band. Adam Bird, formerly of Those Mockingbirds and currently of aBIRD, was added on synth and Tom Barrett, formerly of Overlake, on bass.
Opener “Phantom” already highlights the addition of Bird with the sound of, well birds, and synth for an ethereal beginning. This is blended with the classic Pioneer the Eel sound of atmospheric guitars, precise drumming, and smooth, dreamy, with a slight hint of melancholy vocals that seems to float above the music.
Their first single “Pereo” takes a 180 degree turn with a bright and buoyant tune. Along a steady synth and drumming loop the song slowly builds into a pop tinged tune that one of the most quite frankly danceable songs the band has put out. The guitars intertwine beautifully here reminding me of mid-90s Cure. At about the 4 minute mark the song takes an interesting ominous synth riff to ride the song out with haunted guitars.
I especially like “The Riverboat Hands Tattoo” and it just may be my favorite of the album. It is hypnotic like a prayer crossed with a lullaby. The song has the qualities of some of the best work of U2 including clear and succinct lyrics delivered with a reserved passion that finds release by the end of the song through wailing and tribal murmurs. Gorgeous.
At almost 10 minutes “Beach House Bunker” is a statement. What starts as an easy going tune soon delves into a down and dirty jam with Fernandes emphatically singing through a talk box. This is the heaviest the band has ever been and it is great to see them flex this lesser used muscle. For the last 6 minutes the song takes it time slowly building in pace until it hits an all-out frenzy of pounding drums, swirling guitars and throbbing bass. It ends with the bird sounds we started with and have come full circle.
Bunkers is outstanding and finds the band taking a bold step forward. The new 5 piece Pioneer the Eel retains the atmospheric minimalism of their debut with the added punch of synth and bass. This is a true headphone album that demands multiple listens to catch all that is going on here. Not a frivolous note to be found. At their album release show this past Saturday the band played a new song that sounds different even from what they have done with this release. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.
Bunkers is available on all streaming services.
You check the band out live on September 27th at The Asbury Hotel and September 28th at Stoshtoberfest at Stosh’s in Fair Lawn.
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