Sage Francis Talks Bosnian Rainbows’ Bosnian Rainbows

There's a dream I had in middle school that has stuck with me my whole life. In the dream I was offered a choice between two cars: a red 1988...

There’s a dream I had in middle school that has stuck with me my whole life. In the dream I was offered a choice between two cars: a red 1988 Lamborghini Countach or a nondescript purple limousine. The choice should have been obvious: Lamborghinis were always my favorite. I knew everything about them. I actually had a poster of one on my wall. And yet I chose the purple limousine. Bad choice. It was empty and corroded on the inside. It wouldn’t even drive. But wanna know why I chose it? Because fuck you.

Which brings us to this piece about the new Bosnian Rainbows album. I could have chosen a hip-hop album to write about, but I’ve had an intimate love/hate relationship with that genre for three decades now. I wanted to step into this experience as a novice. Starting with a clean slate would surely help me give an honest take with minimal bias and, if all else failed, it could give the band an easy reason to dismiss me if I said anything they considered off-base or disrespectful.  When I heard the beginning of “Eli” (the first song on the album) I noticed some ethereal soundscapes and a female vocalist. YES… this is for me. I choose this. This is the one.

The cover art looked a bit tripped-out so I prepared for something psychedelic or ambient. I was eagerly anticipating something that was a bit weird and/or… “out there.” The album kicks off suggesting that this is how things will be, but then it builds into a restrained kind of weird, a pseudo-weird that then evolves into a some sort of indie-rock ballad. OK, so… is this an indie-rock album? Is that still a thing and is this what I’ve gotten myself into? Should I be judging this music on the merits of what I’ve been told indie-rock is? I hate when people do that to my own music, but if I don’t know which gears my brain is supposed to shift into. I might not know how to fully appreciate the experience. Context, dammit! OK, wait… upon further listening this is not what I understand to be “indie-rock.” There’s a fair amount of glitchy electronica stuff happening. Not enough to really be the signature mark of whatever style of music this is though.  Also, a significant portion of pop elements sneak their way into a few of the songs. Is this the kind of music rock radio plays these days? I have no clue. But now my curiosity is piqued and, despite my initial intent not to do so, I find myself drawing comparisons against my own feeble will.

The lead vocalist, Teri Gender Bender, reminded me of a slew of other female vocalists. This may be due to my limited frame of reference, but her vocal stylings gave me flashes of Sinéad O’Connor, Tori Amos, and Gwen Stefani (in her early No Doubt days, not the “Hollaback Girl” days). That’s not to say that she doesn’t bring her own unique snowflake self to the table, I just don’t know how to explain it without drawing comparisons. I like how Teri can sound passionate and comfortable whether she’s belting out the songs or singing quietly. She doesn’t do the cheap whisper thing during the softer sections of the songs. And she doesn’t go into “screamy voice” during the louder sections. I have to do both of those things because I’m an awful singer. No cheats in Teri though. No cheats.

As a lyrics person, I do feel like it was a bit lacking in the words department. On a few of the tracks there are short, choppy phrases that are overly repeated. Having repetitive lyrics isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and repetition can make a simple phrase increase in value the more it’s said when it’s done right, but I think it has the opposite effect with lines such as “The world is worthless” or “When you’re high you’re always rolling on me on me on me on me.” Also, although I’m probably mishearing the lyric, I’m pretty sure Teri says “Kiss my brown eye” a few times on one song. Actually, that’s not a complaint. I like that line.

The overall production is great, but I do think that the vocal delays were a bit overused. I would have loved to hear more vocal glitches instead. It’s an effect they use sparingly but much better than I’ve heard others using it lately. I’m not a big fan of meandering electric guitar noises that linger throughout songs, but Bosnian Rainbows is able to bring it all together during the breakdowns and builds in a way where it all makes sense. The final song, “Mother, Father, Set Us Free,” succeeds in combining all the best elements of what this band is capable of. It seamlessly transitions from one mood to another, one style to the next, increasing in tempo as it goes and it incorporates an array of instruments/sounds without any of them getting in each other’s way. That’s a journey right there, and an emotional one at that. My compulsive side has already alerted me that I’ll continue to go back to this song for many years to come.

One thing that I couldn’t shake while listening to Bosnian Rainbows is how much I was reminded of Free Moral Agents (FMA). At first I thought it was just because they also have a female vocalist. But I don’t think that’s it. I toured with FMA, I’ve heard their songs hundreds of times, and this is the first time in my four years of being familiar with their material that another band has reminded me of them. When curiosity got the best of me, I finally decided to do a web search on Bosnian Rainbows and see who’s in the band. Turns out this is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ new project. Omar is from the Mars Volta. Ikey Owens, who leads FMA, played keyboards in the Mars Volta. I thought to myself, “Alright, well maybe a lot of bands sound like this? Maybe they work in conjunction with one another? Or maybe they hate each other! Or maybe I shouldn’t mention any of this because I’m mostly ignorant of this genre and all the nuances that probably exist between all the singers and groups I’ve mentioned in this review? Well, fuck me then.”

Should’ve gone with the Lambo.

Dubbed “the godfather of indie-hop,” Sage Francis is best known for his poetic leanings and scathing socio-political commentary.  Francis first earned nationwide acclaim in the early 2000′s by winning highly coveted titles in the emcee battle circuit; the advent of Napster helped his music gain a massive international cult following. He is the founder and CEO of Strange Famous Records. You can follow him on Twitter here.