It’s easy to try to lump Badge Époque Ensemble into a category of revivalists — bands intent on running an idea of psych-funk glory through analog tape with a superimposed veneer of ringwear on the cover. Yet, while the band might have a few hallmarks that fit that lazy categorization, they’re a much more mercurial band than any genre misconception can hold. The band’s debut played off of the library funk hangover that’s fed sample crates and rabid collectors for years. The album leaned into instrumental funk, lost in a cloud of smoke that seeped deep into the wire work of the musicians and their instruments. Their follow-up may still remain one of their best pieces — an EP that leaned further into their psychedelic impulses, with vocalist Dorothea Paas lending a ‘60s humidity that sticks to the soul. The bulk of the EP went deep into the band’s ability to get lost in heady Parliament breakdowns and cosmic groove and its as close as they’ve come to letting complete improvisation take over.
They bring all of their strengths to the table on their second full length for Telephone Explosion, leaning away a bit from the instrumental emphasis, anchoring the record around a collection of soul-burnt tracks that melt their edges just a bit, while still pushing towards a sound that’s classic but never safe. Paas returns for a duet with U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy on the album opener and it captures a bit of the rain-fogged charms of her feature from the EP. Canadian crooner James Baley pulls the band as close as they’ve ever come to modern R&B, and it’s actually folk songwriter and RSTB fave Jennifer Castle who anchors one of the album’s best tracks, “Just Space For Light.” She steps away from her folk fragility to deliver a track that’s misty and wistful but steely as anything in BEE’s catalog. With the band pulsating behind her it’s a clear highlight, doused in the icy flute of Alia O’Brien whose work often gives the record its gilded bridge between funk, soul and psychedelia.
Now, I’m always going to hope that the band goes further out, and I’m willing to bet when these tracks are on stage each and every one goes hard into its own particular ether. The instrumentals that remain fit the bill here nicely, recapturing a bit of the Library feel that lets the band straddle the past and present like breaks being formed in real time. Self Help is not as raw as the eponymous or interim EP, but it’s great to see the band experimenting with their different sides, even when those experiments take them towards more traditional waters. There’s a feeling that the band is still in the exciting, figuring things out phase and there’s still plenty of time for the epic double LP mind-bender to come. For now, there’s lots of well-crafted pockets to explore over and over on Self Help.
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