Essential New Music: New Bums’ “Last Time I Saw Grace”

The New Bums aren’t that new. Singer/guitarists Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards) and Ben Chasny (Six Organs Of Admittance, Comets On Fire, 200 Years) first recorded seven years ago, and they’ve run in similar circles for a fair bit longer. They’re probably not bums, either, no more than the antecedent duo of Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth really cared about the fortunes of the House Of Stuart when they proclaimed themselves the Jacobites. While certain songs on New Bums’ sophomore album pin claims of dissolution and general losership upon tattered sleeves, you get the feeling they’re shoring up a persona, not disclosing Quinn and Chasny’s genuine circumstances. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with playing a role. Myth resonates stronger than reality most days of the week. The truth that travels with a bodyguard of lies is one that stands an excellent chance of arriving at its destination, and you’re more likely to listen to it if it’s set to an ear-pleasing tune.

While the biographical details of the people remembered on “Marlene Left California” are probably embellished, the song strongly evokes the cumulative bitterness of being the last one left after everyone else moves on, and its layered arrangement of quivering vocal harmonies and alternately buzzing and ascending acoustic guitars ensures that it sounds great while doing so.

Looking at the other side of the coin, “Hermitage Song” scores some real points about the lure and comfort of isolation. And when the details turn gnomic, as they do on the propulsive, string-swaddled “Street Of Spies,” the mystery just makes the songs more flexibly applicable to whatever scenario happens to be bumming around in your head.

—Bill Meyer