Few local bands are as well-received in San Diego as Bunky. Pinback may be more popular on a wider scale and Rocket From the Crypt may be more legendary. But Bunky, made up of long-time San Diego scene icons Rafter Roberts and Emily Joyce, is our band. They’re so brilliant at writing catchy, quirky pop songs that we hold our heads proud in knowing that they’ve sprung from our fair city. They’ll convert any spectator into an instant fan after seeing one of their shows and have become quite beloved because of it. And it’s not hard to understand why. Aside from being an outstanding live act, they’re unusually good songwriters and too adorable for their own damn good. Just check out their Web site if you don’t believe me.
More amazingly, they’ve managed to translate their live energy into a full-length record, released on Asthmatic Kitty, home to many a San Diego hero (i.e. Castanets, Liz Janes) and none other than geography whiz Sufjan Stevens. In fact, Roberts took on engineering duties on a few of Stevens’ records, as well as turning knobs on records by Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, The Black Heart Procession, Kill Me Tomorrow, The Album Leaf and Rogue Wave. But on Born to Be A Motorcycle, Rafter and Emily share the center stage rather than working behind the scenes. And whether singing together or separately, they’re so lovably eccentric, it’s hard not to become enamored with their offbeat brand of pop music.
Some have called Bunky the San Diego version of Broken Social Scene, possibly because the extended edition of the band contains upwards of ten people. But as a musical reference point, it means little. Bunky plays an odd mix of indie pop that recalls The Apples in Stereo, Imperial Teen, The Shins and bits and pieces of just about everything else. The first two tracks on the album, “Baba” and “Yes/No,” carry a straightforward new wave sensibility, pushing the loud guitars and driving beats to the forefront. But this is merely one aspect of the band, as latter songs on the album will make clear. “Funny Like the Moon” teeters back and forth between a jazzy verse and an overdriven punk rock chorus.
Though the title “Gotta Pee” might imply childish shenanigans, the song is one of the band’s best, as scratchy feedback gives way to an infectious verse and choruses buried in noise. “Boy/Girl” is a live staple, consisting of wordless yelps and a healthy dose of horn fanfare. It’s quite peculiar, but not hard to love, at all. “Chuy” has plenty of hooks in little more than a two-chord riff and a one-note organ buzz. But that’s all part of the beauty of Bunky. They create unexpectedly great songs out of the simplest of elements, and that’s no small feat.
This could be the first opportunity for many outside of San Diego to learn about the joys of listening to Bunky. But here, it’s hard not to run into Emily or Rafter when watching music at local venues like the Casbah. Hell, even my band played a show with The Free Stars, Roberts’ other occasional side project. But it’s time for everyone else to hear this fantastic band. And I have no doubt in my mind that music lovers in all of the other 49 states will soon be as in love with Bunky as we are.
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The Magnetic Fields – i
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.