It's been nearly three years to the day since Bluff Caller's standing room only record release party for their EP The Jungle Academy at Reno's now defunct Knitting Factory. The eight song EP signaled the arrival of a potent quartet of relative newcomers with considerable musical chops, clever lyrical narratives and realistic aspirations for break out success. Bluff Caller had managed to record a one listen record full of hook-laden Alt Rock inflected with Hip-Hop and R&B flavor that immediately grabbed your attention. Me and my girlfriend Shelly played the shit out of that record in my car, on road trips to LA, the Bay Area, Las Vegas and Palm Springs. I raved about the tracks and played the EP to death on my community radio show on America Matters Media. I got fan boy geeked about tracks like “90's Kids,” “Knowing That I'm Leaving” and “Gorgeous Savage” that captured a musical sound and vibe rarely experienced in the 775. A sound that appealed to both sorority girls and bros, without insulting the tastes and musical sensibilities of the baby boomer set.
Supporters thought that a one-way ticket to LA would be a pretty good idea—if not a sure bet—that would catapult the band into the national spotlight. The lads finally bit the bullet last year and set their sights – and wallets – upon an LA adventure they hoped would bear fruit in the Big Sleazy.
“I've got some good insight on what went down in LA,” lead singer Cody Rea states in an email to me a few weeks back. “We took jobs as door-to-door salesmen for an alarm company in south LA to avoid waiting tables or getting desk jobs. [We] literally knocked on doors in Torrance, Compton and Long Beach. It was scary and mind-blowing and stimulating and terrifying, and it was just what we needed to get the album done.”
The album Cody is referring to is The Desert Party, a 14-track burner that reaffirms that the creative fire is still blazing for the group of twenty-somethings, who are just a couple of years removed from college. Recorded locally at TC Twitchell's HQ Studios, The Desert Party might seem like a bit of a departure for Bluff Caller—Rea calls it an experimental record—showcasing the growth and maturity that the mates have experienced as musicians over the past few years. The record is broader and more technical than The Jungle Academy, in the way one might hope that a sophomore effort would be.
But the group is still searching for their sweet spot sonically, as evidenced by the catalog of style influences on The Desert Party that range from Hip-Hop, World Music, Jazz, Alternative Rock and R&B. The good news is that Bluff Caller is okay with exploring new terrain. This is their time as emerging artists to do just that, rather then remain pinned to a specific genre.
That musical curiosity is on full display on my favorite track, “Darjeeling,” a galloping track that evokes the feeling of a bareback romp on a wild horse across the Arabian desert. There's more of an international flavor to their music on Desert (“Dark Mater” comes to mind with its marimba sounding rhythmic figure) and a demonstrable confidence in their songcraft. Tight rhythm arrangements from bassist Greg Rea and drummer Dominic Kelly; tasty guitar licks and sparkling melodics from Spencer Mead and Cody Rea's unique vocal phrasing and tremulous vibrato are still predominant.
Rea's voice is the central instrument in the Bluff Caller sound – the way Richard Butler's is for The Psychedelic Furs or Gavin Rossdale's is for Bush. Rea is a bit stylistically sharp on occasion on this outing at the outer limits of his range, the way Terrence Trent D'arby was on many of his recordings. But Rea's elastic falsetto is as emotive as ever. The air in his voice; his tonality and note coloring are brilliant accents for his voiceprint.
Tracks to listen for include the infectious “Baby Daddy.” “Goddess of Wonder,” “M.Y.M.,” and “Spectacular.” I was surprised not to hear “Tahoe Mirage” on this record, perhaps the band's most emblematic song from their Live from The Moon Room video sessions.
About their foray into SoCal waters, Rea reflects, “It shook us out of a petty mindset that we had being 'stuck' in our hometown; but only to realize it wasn't Reno, it was us. When you feel constricted, you think you're gonna fuck it up in the end somehow,” he notes. “You don't think big enough. All in all we felt ill prepared to sustain everyday life in a city that massive. We learned it was pay-to-play most places and we eventually grew to love the power of the internet. The future belongs to the self-contained, self-represented musician. Crazy how art, especially promoting your art, is a mindset, not a location.”
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