Throughout the course of this site’s eight year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Brooklyn dance pop act and JOVM mainstays Rubblebucket. Although the band has gone through a number of lineup changes and iterations, there’s one thing that’s been consistent — founding duo and primary songwriters Alex Toth (trumpet, vocals, percussion) and Kalmia Traver (lead vocals, tenor sax and baritone sax). Toth and Traver can trace the origins of their collaboration to when they met while playing in Burlington, VT-based Latin jazz act. Now, as you may recall once Toth and Traver relocated to Brooklyn. the duo along with a full-fledged band emerged on to the national scene with the release of 2011’s critically applauded sophomore album Omega La La, and an already established reputation for a relentless touring schedule full of ecstatic, energetic and mischievous, dance party-like live sets. Since Omega La La, Rubblebucket’s recorded output has revealed a band that has graduated crafted, then cemented a signature sound — and with their most recent releases, subtly expanding upon it. Simultaneously, Traver fully stepped into the role of the band’s frontperson with a growing self-assuredness.
Slated for an August 24, 2018 release through Grand Jury Music, Sun Machine, Rubblebucket’s fifth full-length album may arguably be among the most personal that Traver and Toth have ever written as the album’s material is largely inspired by the end of the duo’s longterm romantic relationship and the duo’s deep and lasting connection both personally and creatively. Of course, the album also draws from a number of major-life changing events over the past few years — namely, Kalmia Traver’s ovarian cancer diagnosis back in 2013, followed by rounds of surgeries and chemotherapy treatments; Alex Toth’s decision to get sober after a long struggle with alcoholism; and the couple’s three-year attempt at maintaining an open relationship. While the material sonically finds the band maintaining elements of the sound that first captured the attention of the blogosphere and elsewhere, it’s a continued expansion of their sound; in fact, the album reportedly manages to be emotionally ambivalent, with the album’s material finding the band crafting ebullient dance floor friendly sound and although the music is rooted in a radical mindfulness, it’s an aching breakup album, imbued not with the bitterness and accusation of most break ups but a palpable and profound love. It’s arguably a very sincere, very adult album.
Musically (and sonically), the album finds Toth and Traver tapping back into their jazz training with many moments throughout the album completely driven by improvisation. “There’s a lot of moments on this album that happened from us being in a trance-like zone, and coming up with weird sounds in the middle of recording, sometimes by accident,” Alex Toth says in press notes. But at its core, the duo hope that the album will encourage listeners and fans to see the possibility of transformation in painful experiences. ” When I got cancer and Alex quit drinking, that was the beginning of a huge journey for both of us,” Kalmia Traver says. “So much of that journey has been about giving myself the freedom to exist on my own terms, believing in my ideas instead of self-editing. I think this album represents both of us allowing ourselves that freedom in a totally new way, and hopefully it’ll give people inspiration to be creative in their own lives, and to just soften up a bit too.”
Sun Machine’s third and latest single “What Life Is” finds the duo meshing wildly different tones: breezy, infectious Beatles-like pop hooks, hallucinogenic psychedelia and Nile Rodgers-like guitar playing, some incredibly expressive horn playing and thumping contemporary pop — but it may be among the sultriest yet most free-flowing and seemingly dream logic-like song they’ve ever released; but while possessing a unfiltered vulnerability and honesty. “‘What Life Is’ is a stream of consciousness inspired by living in New York City,” Rubblebucket’s Alex Toth says. “Being in close quarters with so many humans bumping into one another, feverishly striving and surviving can be as inspiring as it is suffocating. I’m sometimes struck with an image of me and my 8 million neighbors from afar, as tiny beings filtering in and out of tiny boxes within bigger concrete structures, onto trains and gridded streets. And somehow persevering and trying to be human and happy. It’s a wild and beautiful endeavor and takes a fair amount of grit.”
Directed by Charles Billot, the recently released video for “What Life Is” is a slickly produced yet sweaty and hallucinogenic dream centered around the duo being neurotic balls of bouncing, swinging, dancing energy — and throughout there’s a warm, mischievous humanity within the video that strikes me as being the very core of the duo and their work.