THE ARMOIRES return with their keenly-awaited second album ZIBALDONE. The Burbank, CA band's co-leaders Christina Bulbenko (vocals, keys) and Rex Broome (vocals, guitar) describe the new work as a sonic love letter to music itself: the music that inspired them and the music of their friends and fellow travelers on the stages of the global pop rock
THE ARMOIRES return with their keenly-awaited second album ZIBALDONE. The Burbank, CA band's co-leaders Christina Bulbenko (vocals, keys) and Rex Broome (vocals, guitar) describe the new work as a sonic love letter to music itself: the music that inspired them and the music of their friends and fellow travelers on the stages of the global pop rock scene. The album will be available on vinyl, CD and digital download through Big Stir Records on August 2.
THE ARMOIRES arrived quietly on the music scene with their debut album Incidental Lightshow – a lovely but grief-shadowed record deeply informed by the loss of Christina's son Ian midway through its creation – in 2016. Since that time, Broome and Bulbenko have semi-famously poured their hearts and souls into the nurturing of the music scene which has embraced them by founding Big Stir, a rapidly rising and widely admired international record label, live concert series, magazine and general community hub for creators and lovers of melodic rock.
The band themselves, having solidified their lineup with Christina's daughter Larysa (viola, backing vocals), Clifford Ulrich (bass, harmonica, backing vocals) and Derek Hanna (drums), have gigged, toured and written relentlessly during Big Stir Records' gestation, but remained silent on the recording front for the first 12 releases on the burgeoning label they themselves founded. Earlier this year, the SIDE THREE EP appeared, introducing the band as they are now, over 100 gigs deep into their proper career: a boisterous, exuberant but sophisticated pop combo joyously banging their way through four raucous, jangling originals and a cover of a New Pornographers classic.
ZIBALDONE, produced, like the EP, by Plasticsoul's Steven Eric Wilson with a deft and empathetic touch, is a deeper dive into the same waters and crackles with the energy of a band that's found its voices... or voices, if you will. The unique harmonies of Broome and Bulbenko are the anchor, ornamented by the refined 12-string and viola lead interplay that's become the band's secondary signature. The road-tested immediacy of the EP is still very much evident, but the pallet is more varied. Alongside a clutch of vibrant rockers are the charming Go-Betweens-meet-The Beach Boys shuffle of “McCadden”, the aqueous post-punk jangle-dub of “The Romantic Dream Appears Before Us”, the low-desert chamber-pop of “Suddenly Succulents”, the pedal-steel-sweetened melancholy of “Satellite Business” and the surf-klezmer clang of “Just Like Carl Crew Said”. A veritable host of the band's friends from the pop scene show up for the party, as whimsically depicted by artist Joseph Champniss on the strikingly detailed jacket art. Along with Wilson himself, members of Spygenius, The Bobbleheads, The Corner Laughers, Toxic Melons and Blake Jones from The Trike Shop (on theremin no less!) appear, and ace harmonies from Michael Simmons and Steve Rosenbaum weave in and out between the leads... even former Soft Boy Matthew Seligman takes a turn on bass (as do Ruth Rogers of Spygenius and Broome's daughter Miranda). But despite the impressive and warm support of these luminaries, The Armoires sound more like themselves than ever before: the distinctive drumming of Hanna ties it all together, while shared lead harmonies (ranging from sunshine pop sweetness to X-like co-howls) and the bed of guitar, keys and viola, all finessed to its organic ideal by Wilson's production touch, are unmistakable for anyone else.
“Incidental Lightshow was a record we had to make at the time”, says Broome, “and Zibaldone is the record we wanted to make.” The songs are the proof – they're lyrically playful and strewn with characters and mementos of the band's experiences. The record is bookended by the soaring “Appalachukrainia” and the deeply Robyn Hitchcock-indebted “When We Were In England (And You Were Dead)”, both virtual travelogues of The Armoires' two transformative swings through the UK. The band's personal musical idols crop up repeatedly. You'll catch references to The Who, Blondie, Dylan, Bob Mould, Neil Young, The Jazz Butcher and R.E.M. alongside the aforementioned X and Soft Boys and many of Bulbenko and Broome's contemporaries. It's no trainspotter's checklist for the pair, though, but a loving acknowledgement of the musical air they breathe and the inspirational power of the songs, old and new, that fuel and define them.
A strain of defiance against the middle-aged wasteland runs through tunes like “Pushing Forty”, “McCadden” and the barbershop Buzzcocks bash of “Is Drama Sue Here?”, songs that could only have been written by parents (and teachers). The Motown-meets-The Byrds stomp of the lead single “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?” nods to Christina's Detroit roots while “Satellite Business” draws on Rex's own West Virginia origins. Longtime live favorite “Alesandra 619” achieves psychedelic majesty in Wilson's ethereal mix, and Christina's vocal on the delicate “Suddenly Succulents” is a true heartbreaker. The overall package is, typically for The Armoires, timeless, at once sounding like it might have sprung from the late '60s Sunset Strip, the charts of the mid-'80s college rock heyday, or last weekend at Joe's Great American in Burbank.
The release of Zibaldone will, unsurprisingly, be followed by a new round of touring for The Armoires well into 2020 in the US and UK, sharing stages with their BSR labelmates and other beloved collaborators. New material is already in the wings as the band moves ever forward. “It's no wonder I feel like I'm dreaming”, goes the chorus to “Alesandra 619”, and The Armoires seem intent on pursuing that romantic dream for some time to come.