A number of years ago, this writer attended a Rubblebucket show in a small venue in Upstate New York. The energy in the small, dingy room was electrified by the band’s energy, which seemed to travel off the cusp. There was a spontaneous, sporadic, but still tightly bound quality to Rubblebucket that was impressive.
Rubblebucket has just arrived with their newest album, Survival Sounds, which has catapulted the Brooklyn-based band lightyears ahead of where they were at this little bar-room show in Upstate New York many moons before. Survival Sounds employs the talents of producer John Congleton (of St. Vincent and Modest Mouse success, among others) to create an album that combines Rubblebucket’s generally out there, bursting-at-the-seams energy, with easily digestible, refined, indie pop. The outcome is an upbeat and celebratory album that is easy listening while still being something completely unique.
Last year, Rubblebucket’s singer, Kalmia Traver was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which she subsequently powered through. This album, the aptly named, Survival Sounds appears to be a neon-colored, burst of light celebrating life to the absolute fullest.
The horn lines and funk and reggae inspired elements of Rubblebucket still exist on Survival Sounds, but in a much more subdued way than they ever did on their first few full-length releases. The track "Origami" opens up with a driving drum beat and horns a-blaring, before quieting down and showcasing Traver's endearing Tune-yards-esque vocals and uplifting lyrics. The horns take the lead on this track, while being used more for punctuation on a lot of the rest of the album. Meanwhile, "Major Roxy" and "My Life" are undeniably happy and catchy tracks with plenty of classic R&B influences to boot.
The opening track, “On the Ground,” features the horns in a way that creates a beautiful, arching soundscape. The track is a sweeping, almost regal sounding song, with fuzzed out, muted colors that are reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens or Beirut. The understated track erupts into indie pop magic, with Traver’s voice flying through the chorus. Meanwhile, “Shake Me Around” borders on rock, with its hard hitting guitar and its ability to get you involuntarily head-bobbing. The album jumps all over the spectrum, in terms of genre. There’s rock, R&B, pop, afropop, funk, and the list goes on. However, it works. This kind of fusion is a characteristic of Rubblebucket, and through all of these elements, there still seems to be a common thread that keeps the album cohesive.
All in all, Survival Sounds has sanded down a number of the rough edges that have made Rubblebucket the exciting and unique entity that they have been on past releases. However, with this new, smoother, cleaner sound, Survival Sounds is bound to be a breakout album for the band. It’s undoubtedly a fun, catchy, and celebratory album.