"Before the Glacier" shares the strange and beautiful works of Stumblesome
The four members of Milwaukee band Stumblesome are sitting in a booth at Comet Café, their heads slightly cocked to the side with contemplatively serene expressions on their faces. No one is talking, but there is a silent intensity within the small group.
"That's the look that we see the most while we're playing," the band's frontman Wes Tank says, imitating this focused yet faraway stare -- a reaction he says he frequently receives from members of his audience. "They look confused, yet they like it, but they're not sure how to feel. It's as if they're thinking, 'Something strange is going on here...but it's nice.' It's a good look."
And as curious onlookers gaze up at the band on stage, the source of all the smiles and wonder is busy harnessing its nervous and creative energy to produce a rare musical -- and in many ways theatrical -- experience.
Although Stumblesome has taken on several various shapes and sizes over the years -- including a lone Tank rapping over CDs with beats -- the band as a whole -- Tank (words, among other things), Kris Everson (guitar, among other things), Kipp Zavada (accordion, among other things) and Eddie Villanueva (drums, among other things) -- has been writing together for almost a year and just this week put the finishing touches on its first full-length, "Before the Glacier."
A veritable cornucopia of stylistic choices and moods, the record belongs exclusively to no specific genre and works as a dynamic, emotional collaboration between four people with extremely diverse musical backgrounds. Tank is mostly rapping, yet the record is a far stretch from your quintessential rap effort, what with the accompanying accordion, epic choir sections and occasional delves into dusty twang.
Like a rap album, "Glacier" is, at times, lyrically driven, as Tank visits the strangest places of his brain to share poetry that tells stories, creates verbal rhythm and occasionally comes across as a series of nonsensical non-sequiturs.
But just when you think you've committed Stumblesome to some variation of indie hip hop, the whole show takes a sharp left turn. The album's title, for example, comes from the song "The Contours of Digression," a track where Tank lowers his octave to that of a gruff snarl and barrels his way through a noble war chant of yore. Two songs later, "Old Clothes on a Naked Bed" hits harder with Villanueva's commanding drums crashing all around charging, dark samples.
And when the band plays live, the samples come to life, too.
"That is something I appreciated about this band before I started playing with them," says Everson. "I'd see them perform in a basement and they were yelling the samples that had been on their CD. I had never heard of a band go to such an effort in a live setting to integrate samples into the song so much so that they become part of the lyrics."
Over time, Tank and Zavada took to redoing older songs -- songs they had written when Stumblesome was just the two of them -- to make them work for the entire band. Rather than re-recording all the old digital film samples they'd woven into the fabric of their music, they decided so sing and play them themselves.
"They'd become such an integral part of the songs, we couldn't leave them out," says Zavada. "One song had a Francois Hardy sample, which required us to learn her whole song and I played her vocal part on accordion. I think it works really well."
A playwright and a lyricist with an impressive vocabulary, Tank is a natural performer, and says he sees these live sample renditions almost as theatrical asides that add another dimension to the performance.
As the interview comes to an end, Tank mentions the catalog of new material the band's continuously working on and insists that even better music is permeating anxiously through its bones, waiting to be molded into future greatness. Exciting news, indeed, but as the band looks ahead, the rest of us have ample time to saturate ourselves in an impressive debut. "Before the Glacier" is available at Atomic Records and look for a little something from Stumblesome on OnMilwaukee.com's summer compilation, OMCD_03.0.
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