It seems as though there has been a renaissance of honesty in the past few years. All over pop culture, artists in many different mediums have been lauded for honest portrayals of the raw reality of everyday life. The trend has even been extending into politics where many citizens are increasingly tired of the same old talking points and politician-speak. The catch about this type of honesty, however, is that we as consumers may want to hear stories that come straight from the soul, but we usually want them in a nicely palatable package. Music can easily fall prey to this dynamic. A musician might have great ideas and messaging, but the production should meet the same standard. Such is the case for the Portland group The Macks, whose recent EP Cha Bunky was recorded entirely in DIY fashion. The young band shows strong ideas and writing on the EP, but they will benefit from more comprehensive production in the future.
The Macks consist of vocalist Sam Fulwiler, Ben Windheim on guitar, Bailey Sauls on bass, and Joe Windheim on drums. The group shows an impressive amount of cohesion in their songwriting and performing. Even though the production is often rough on Cha Bunky, it’s clear from their explosive energy that these four have cut their teeth performing live and bring strong musical content to the table.
The EP opens with the hard-hitting “Buffalo,” a riff-based track that shows a lot of heart even as there are some timing issues. The production is certainly rough and it’s difficult to ignore, but they actually rebound with some sly tricks that improve the overall sound, particularly toward the end of the song as Windheim sings, “Run me down.” The second track, “Crazy, Too,” establishes the narrator as a bit of an outsider as Windheim muses about an emotionally unhinged love interest before admitting that he is “crazy, too.” The bluesy “Diana” follows and takes the listeners on a wide musical journey, from the down home guitar at the top into more loose, manic riff-rock toward the song’s close. “Deadweight” continues where “Diana” left off in energy with its quick pace and frenzied feel. It’s a song that one could easily imagine setting off an audience at a live show.
Even though Cha Bunky has only five songs, the music reflects a band steeped in tradition and musically mature beyond their years. The most common musical thread throughout the EP is unquestionably the blues. The Macks show a deft treatment of the heritage as they showcase original material that is unique while still being definitively in the blues realm. Perhaps the best example comes on the final track, “Car Crash.” Joined by some haunting vocals from Carmen Groenweghe, the song delivers an unhurried guitar-driven vibe with expressive vocals and cyclical song structure. The Macks keep it fresh, though, with some unexpected chord changes that make the song – and its overall sound – decidedly theirs.
Despite the rough production and occasional lapses in musicianship, Cha Bunky shows that The Macks are a band with promise. They possess one artist’s trait in particular that isn’t teachable but is absolutely essential: heart. These musicians clearly put everything they have into the music and their concepts and vision for the group is secure. They play with a purpose. The other aspects of the music can always improve over time. When those elements elevate to the levels of the Macks’ musical spirit, listeners will be mightily rewarded.