Imagine if you will that Talking Heads, U2, The Cure and Radiohead all came together to collaborate on an album (after setting aside any and all creative differences). That would be one incredible dream album, right? Well, there is one that sounds like it could have come from such a supergroup: Bastard Performer, by a creative and outrageously talented alternative rock band called Bundy. The album is magnificent – a kaleidoscopic soundscape of breathtaking melodies, complex musical structures and deeply meaningful lyrics that elicit strong emotional responses for the listener. It certainly does for me; each of the tracks are so compelling and beautifully executed they bring tears to my eyes and chills to my spine.
Based in Long Beach, California, Bundy consists of front man Nani Serna (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Johnny Lim (Guitar, Keys), Mike Meza (Drums) and JB Vasquez (Bass). Serna and Lim had years of experience playing locally and abroad before they came together to form Bundy in 2016. “I like to say Johnny is the Greenwood to my Yorke” says Serna, in reference to Radiohead, one of the bands biggest influences. “I’m very much into the reverb drenched, dripping down the walls sound that The Walkman have – but I like to pair it with a Talking Heads feel.” Orange County publication OC WEEKLY named Bundy the Best New Band of 2017, saying: “Bundy temper their dark lyrical content with melodic breaks and pop-forward arrangements, letting audiences come up for air once in a while as they bob their heads to a dancy four-on-the-floor beat.”
The band released three EPs in quick succession during 2016 and 2017, and in late January dropped Bastard Performer, their first full-length album. Serna states the album “is an ode to the sinister feeling of expectations. Of feeling inadequate, unsatisfied, and alone. A lot of this album is about growing up in a broken home. Some of it is political. I thought a lot about my own struggles in life, writing these songs.”
Our first introduction to the album are sounds of sparkling synths, gentle guitar and fluttering horns, announcing the arrival of “Cold Dead Place.” As the instruments build, Serna begins to passionately sing about the pain from the loss of a loved one – “This is a cold dead place. Here lie the memories.” The track shifts to a balled-like tempo, and organ and percussion are added, along with a gorgeous little guitar riff that seems to convey the pain and sadness expressed in the lyrics. The song is mournful yet achingly beautiful.
The poignant second track “Holy Vultures” starts off calmly, but gradually-building riffs of jangly guitars and violently crashing cymbals create a fitting backdrop to Serna’s emotionally-wrought vocals. He wails about the agony of the personal hell he’s going through, causing thoughts of suicide but vowing not to let them overtake him: “I’m being ripped apart by these Holy Vultures. They’re circling the sky. Lighting my head on fire. I’m out of direction I swear. But I won’t let them take me.” The animated video is fantastic.
Bundy really channels Talking Heads on “Lavender and Chamomile,” and by now I’m completely smitten with this brilliant album. The guitar work is so fucking good, with intricate change-ups and melodic shifts that grab hold and shake you out of whatever complacency you may still be harboring. I love the powerful little flourishes of frantic jangly guitar and Meza’s hammering drums which seem to be a hallmark of their signature sound. I also love Serna’s vocals and his craziness that shines through in the endearing, off-the-wall video.
The mesmerizing title track “Bastard Performer” is a deeply personal one for Serna. Addressing his insecurities and self-doubt about his music career, he questions: “What is the point of this? Am I playing to a room full of people who don’t care at all? Does anyone care about me, or am I just stuck in this anxiety?” The poignant lyrics speak to the internal struggle of wanting success and acclaim so badly, but fearing your hopes and dreams are unrealistic and will lead to nothing: “Maybe there’s nothing better than to be in lights. It’s probably too much though, to have hopes so high. Bastard. Performer bastard.” The back and forth wavering of the music and tempo from gentle to intense creates a sense of anxiety that, combined with Serna’s impassioned vocals, makes for a song with great emotional impact. The brilliant and touching video shows an aspiring ballerina as a young girl and a teenager, struggling with her insecurities.
As the album progresses, I continue to be blown away by the band’s incredible musicianship. Remember when I mentioned getting teary-eyed and spine-tingled? Well, “Manic” summons both in spades. God, this song is stunning, with some of the most amazing guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Like many of their songs, it starts off slowly, with beautiful chiming guitars, horns and a gently tapping drumbeat. A little more than halfway through it explodes into a torrent of shredded & jangly guitars, exuberant horns, buzzing bass and thunderous drums. The tempo shift seems to symbolize the pensive low and manic high of bipolar disorder. Serna wails “I’m up and down, ’cause I’m manic.”
The hard-hitting “Who Let Me In” and “Fill the Well” both have ominous vibes, thanks to a barrage of gritty, distorted guitars, massive bass and lots of crashing cymbals. On the first track, Serna desperately wails: “There’s a monster in a wedding dress. Asking me what am I doing here. And I can’t hear a single thing you’ve said. / I may have made a mistake coming here. But you’re the one who let me in.” “Fill the Well” is an attack on capitalism, and how it feeds our never-ending hunger for material things. “Consume it repeat it. Fill the Well. Wouldn’t you like to try to feel a little better?”
One of my favorite tracks is “Kerosene,” a beautiful track with melodic jangly guitar work that reminds me of The Cure. I could listen to this gem all day! Radiohead’s influence really shows on the funereal beauty “What Blood.” Oh man, here come those chills again! Serna’s heartrending vocals express utter despair as he laments: “Will I feel pain like this when I lay dying? The blood on my hands is mine to keep.”
The album closes with the powerful anthemic “They’ve Left Us,” a scathing attack on the wreckage perpetrated against society by our cruel, greedy and soulless leaders, especially in these tumultuous times.
Well the masters pretended there were lions in the den
Rounded up all innocents into a grateful pen
Set fires to cities filled with children
Told us the answers all laid with them
This is how we lost our faith
The changes came quickly and not without a word
A nation ignorant left so many unheard
But soon came the violence the sullen and the poor
Led by the riches delusions of grandeur
This is how we lost our faith
They left us to face our fates
The music suddenly stops, then resumes with gentle guitars as Serna sings with sadness of people’s acceptance of this poor leadership and their worship of capitalism, believing that having more and more stuff will make their lives better, yet blind to the simple things that are really meaningful:
Some people clock in and clock out, wondering what comes next
They spend all their money on meaningless objects
They go to church crying that there left with nothing
If they open their eyes they’d see the world is stunning
And so is this song, with exuberant horns that seem to soar to the heavens, jangly guitars, glittering synths and thunderous percussion. It’s a fitting conclusion to an album that is quite simply a masterpiece. Everything about Bastard Performer is perfect, and I can’t imagine what Bundy could have done differently on this flawlessly executed work.
You can see Bundy at one of these upcoming shows in their home town of Long Beach: