“If David Lynch had set Twin Peaks in rural Georgia, then Bambara could have composed the soundtrack. Like Lynch’s TV show, the songs on Shadow on Everythingtell twisted tales of sex, death, apathy, self-destruction and the peculiar power of fate. Narratives wrap back around on themselves like an oroborous, leaving listeners wondering if these stories are real or the fever dreams of a collective unconsciousness.
Several characters and places are repeated throughout the lyrics of these 12 tracks. There’s a bar called Red Tide and a would-be poet named Jack. Punk kids do drugs in an abandoned church. Yet these stories aren’t as straightforward as they might seem at first.
Is the “doe-eyed girl” from opening track “Dark Circles” the same as the girl left behind in “José Tries to Leave”? Or is she Elsa from “Doe-Eyed Girl”? And when guest vocalist Lyzi Wakefield sings, “What’re you gonna do when I get back home and she wants you to hold her,” is she referring to her own child or another woman? It’s all part of the album’s intoxicating mystique, one that perfectly melds lyrics with music.
Bambara has been honing their particular style since 2010, but with Shadow on Everything they have reached their apotheosis. The band’s bleakly southern Gothic sound flirts openly with post-punk Americana, but at times it also invokes the emotional grandeur of Spaghetti Westerns. That’s a lot of ground to cover for a trio, but Bambara pulls it off with aplomb. Blaze Bateh’s cavernous, powerful drumming keeps the anarchic reverb of Reid Bateh’s guitar in check, while William Brookshire’s bass rumbles beneath. Together, they craft songs which stomp forward with purpose and build to crescendos of near-unbearable tension, but without relying on typical song structures.
There are musical leitmotifs in “Doe-Eyed Girl” and “Monument” that serve as choruses, but the lyrics of both songs refuse to capitulate to that architecture. “José Tries to Leave” opens with the twang of a guitar as it follows the titular character on his way to catch a train. That sound returns a few times in the form of a guitar riff that hints at the inevitable direction towards which Jose’s life will head. Similarly, while “The Door Between Her Teeth” doesn’t follow the verse-chorus-verse framework, its rhyme scheme makes it feel like purposeful poetry: “Stomps her shadow to the sidewalk / in the cigarettes and ash / kicks her shadow through the tall grass / in the fallen nests and trash.”
A few songs on the album reference a mysterious entity, described as a “rich man on a hill” (“Doe-Eyed Girl”), an “old man in his mansion” (“The Door Between Her Teeth”) and someone who watches a couple go skinny dipping (“Steel Dust Ocean”). Yet the final track, “Back Home,” hints at someone even more sinister.
Opening with a subversion of the creation myth filtered through a post-apocalyptic Big Bang (“Creatures drag themselves on wet ground”), the song talks about a “rich man” who settles down in a home with a basement where “everything is painted red / except the black disco balls / and the mirrors that line the halls.” This version of Lucifer keeps the characters in Shadow on Everything within his gaze and his grasp, adding to the idea that no one in this fictional world can escape their fate.”