For the first five years of their existence, it was a fairly simple matter to take a guess at the title of the next Budos Band recording. That’s what happens when your debut is called The Budos Band and the next two albums are The Budos Band II and The Budos Band III. That’s called establishing a precedent. And so, when the Staten Island “instrumental afro-soul” band announced that their Oct. 21 album would be titled Burnt Offering rather than The Budos Band IV, it was clear that something was up.
Reviews of Budos recordings tend to minimize the amount of growth and transformation that did go on between Budos Band I and III. The three LP’s can’t rightly be called “extensions of the same musical thought”—they’re more like a journey down an increasingly apocalyptic road. Like a high fantasy novel, they begin in a place that is bright and almost (relatively) innocent before growing and multiplying in the audaciousness and opulence of their arrangements. By the end of Budos Band III, there’s a distinct impression that these sprawling funk instrumentals are teetering on the edge, clearly brilliant but moments from spinning out of control. The band is performing music like Bobby Fischer played chess. It may have simply been an unsustainable arc.
And thus, Burnt Offering, which represents a full-on mutation rather than the previous steady evolution of Budos music. It’s 2014, and in the band’s Daptone studio, it would seem guitars are all the rage. Because for the first time, “funk rock” becomes an accurate descriptor for the still-complex musical sprawl, which now evokes the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin right alongside Fela Kuti.
“The Sticks” is a fine example of what to expect, opening with a riff that sounds straight out of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Trippy keyboard swirls around the fuzzy guitars that are now leading the way, with occasional blasts from the horn section reminding the listener that you’re still listening to a Budos Band recording. “Aphasia” is similar but more segmented, trading off segments between familiar funk and vintage-sounding guitar breakdowns that could have been rescued from the cutting-room floor of some early heavy metal exploration. It’s difficult to say whether those two halves ever truly become a whole.
The most effective example might be “Magus Mountain,” which integrates the guitar arrangements organically with soaring horns to create something closest to the desired funk-rock fusion. The traditional drum kit (gone is the hand percussion) is also significantly more noticeable here than in most other Budos recordings, shouldering a greater burden of providing a strong foundation for guitars and horns to riff upon.
It’s a mostly successful experiment that, in all reality, still retains much of the DNA of The Budos Band’s past triumphs while simultaneously embracing a very specific stylistic addition. The new elements add freshness but simultaneously detract on some level from the band’s uniqueness, the x-factor that only they were able to provide in the past. There are still irresistible dance grooves here, but also more segments that are likely to call for headphone introspection. It might even be safer than that out-of-control feeling on Budos Band III. One can only hope that future Budos Band recordings retain at least this level of their signature sound—it’s entirely too good and too uncommon to discard.