Fifteen counts into their sophomore album, Gawk, is all it takes for Vundabar to pique interest. By the second verse, they’ll have you hooked. The bait? Brandon Hagen’s simultaneously delicate and defiant falsetto vocals that bring all the defiance of Black Francis from the Pixies and all the whimsy of the B-52’s Fred Schneider, though perhaps with less flair. Backed by Zachary Ambramo’s meaty bass lines and the staccato cymbals of Drew McDonald, the trio packs an incredible punch. Based on sound alone, these boys could drift seamlessly through the ranks of the LA indie rock scene. Based on showmanship, they’d be welcome at any venue. Unfortunately, the Boston natives faced difficulty on their home turf finding support as a new band on their way out of high school.
The shining silver lining is the grueling onslaught of tours they embarked on to get out of their area and spread their art, despite the many jobs over the years that wouldn’t hold their places by the time they came back home. Nevertheless, Vundabar reached audiences across the country, even prowling around Europe for a few months, and were accepted everywhere with good vibes and mosh pits. It was this reception that propelled them through fatigue and financial struggles alike. The daily post-shower cuddle sessions they never fail to make time for help keep them tight as well. Still, the stress of the industry and the modern world climate in general tend to seep under their skins.
A closer look at the message behind much of Gawk and select gems from their first album, Antics, like “Holy Toledo” reveal a darker take on conformity, materialism, and substance abuse, among other things. Hagen attributes the cloudy nature of the lyrics he writes to the grey environment of home sweet home, but acknowledges the grounding of the stories in his life experiences. Still, the gravity of the words are pretty much lost to anyone without the Bandcamp lyrics in front of them, especially if they’re watching one of Vundabar’s ridiculous music videos instead.
For example, “Ash in the Sun” ballads the tale of a washed up burnout that begs “Bury me, baby please/I can’t go home I can’t stay clean”, set to the buffoonish pursuit of a drug-smuggling pug. Or take “Oulala”, whose film aspect is a montage of their hilarious film-caught antics from the tour, yet croons: “I fake a laugh, sick psychopath” to play out the gentle riffs and high harmonies. So don’t be fooled by their surfy aesthetic, or as they put it, the “twangy” pop rock sound. Vundabar is a multi-layered beast of introspects in casual button-downs and layered jackets.
Like any artist of merit, however, a love for the music penetrates the depths of their being. It carries them through the good, the bad, the shocking, and the meh. Hopefully they continue on their upward-facing track, enough to find time to focus solely on their craft. There are wafts of a third album coming our way, but a timeline has yet to be set. With enough support, there is no doubt that they can live up to what they thought was just a random band name—the German word for “wonderful”. It seems perfectly fitting to me.
Words: Darby Dayton