By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
By Chaz Kangas
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Sam Blum
A Brooklyn band with nothing better to do than sit around inventing new instruments—it certainly smacks of the urban-renewal woodsman ideology we're told exists these days. But for Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer (both pronounced "Aaron"), who comprise Buke & Gass, they just do it this way because it's easier. They make almost everything they play, right down to their guitar amps. "Took me two hours of soldering," Dyer laments about the wooden amp box, as she messes about with some duct tape in their Cobble Hill studio. She's trying to jerry-rig a Toeborine, which is a tambourine she made for her feet. "But not all at once. Just an hour one night, then an hour the next."
Dyer, a bicycle mechanic, and Sanchez, a former tech roadie/instrument-maker for the Blue Man Group, met roughly 10 years ago and almost immediately started making music together, first dabbling in some singer-songwriter stuff Dyer brought, then an electronica project, then a quartet called Hominid, before settling on B&G in 2008. The band is named after the instruments they play, which Sanchez makes. Dyer sings and primarily plays the "buke," a baritone ukelele that slightly resembles a discount-store toy guitar; Sanchez plays a modified kick drum as well as the "gass" (rhymes with "base"), a metallic-looking guitar with six strings—two bass, four guitar. "I was looking for a new instrument," Sanchez says. "When I play bass parts, the notes come through a guitar amp, so it's not just a bass sound. It's its own thing. "
This fall, they released Riposte, an odd, 14-song hodge-podge of avant-folk stompers like "Your Face Left Before You" and "Revel in Contempt," alongside little 30- to 45-second interstitial fragments. At times, the result recalls the schizophrenic meanderings of the Fiery Furnaces, the folk-psych leanings of Akron/Family, and the charming ambitions of High Places, but Riposte's intrigue lies not only in trying to figure out exactly which instrument is doing what (wait, is that a homemade bulbul tarang I hear?), but in marveling at the nature of song construction itself. "We improvise for hours and just record it all," Sanchez says. "That's why songs go completely different directions: We're taking parts from this day and this day, and mashing them together . . . we like what we get of that. It takes us out of the equation . . . it's not like I sat down and said, 'Let me think of some cool notes.' "
But within this complex, labored method of writing and recording, Dyer's voice still rings out, at times sounding a bit like Geddy Lee, or a restrained Karen O. On "Immortal But Just Fine, Okay" she sounds fragile, almost desperate, yet moments later she's excited or paranoid (or both) on the frenetic "Bundletuck." She sings about things and situations that might seem familiar, might not, like on the opening lines to "Medulla Oblongata": "You treat me like a nurse in your arms/Sterile in my white paper crown/When will you get better?" And like her handyman partner, she goes through lyrics the way an architect might dabble in blueprints: Drafts upon drafts are etched, lines crossed out, words changed around, until she finally reaches something that she hopes doesn't sound contrived.
They also hope you're not too fixated on the whole homemade-gear thing. "The fact that we're making the instruments is just to solve a problem," Sanchez says. "'What can we do to maximize the music that we're playing?'"
"Rather than using a drum track, you make silly things like this," Dyer explains, holding up the bandaged Toeborine. "And then sweat."
Buke & Gass play the Mercury Lounge on December 11