Begun in 2001 in some nebulous form as the project Bugdum Toe, Lansing, Michigan-based trio BerT really began to pick up momentum in 2009. The period between 2010 and 2012 has seen no fewer than seven BerT releases through their own Madlantis Records imprint (also home to Ghoulie, Elk Nebula and other oddities), the latest of which is Stoner Boner. Actually, if you want to be technical about it, the full title seems to be Burt: The Not Self-Titled Album/The Lost Bertos: Cutting a Hot Demo/Spring Fever Stoner Boner, but I’m pretty sure a band with BerT’s penchant for irreverence won’t begrudge an abbreviation. Stoner Boner, then, is a five-track, 21-minute demo that, if the liner is to be believed, previews songs to come on the next three BerT outings. I only cast doubt on the veracity of that claim because said liner, which comes with the limited, home-screenprinted disc in a sleeve, also contains a band bio that I’d be willing to believe was culled from back and forth Facebook comments on the part of Phillip Clark (who here plays bass on the first four tracks and guitar on the fifth, which was recorded earlier), Ryan Andrews (who here plays guitar and sings on the first four tracks and drums on the last) and Rael Jordan (who isn’t on the last song at all but drums and sings on the rest). Whether it’s true or not that BerT have an album on the way called Wall of Bees or that two of these tracks will be on Return to the Electric Church, or that 12-minute drone-riff closer “Trample the Dead Including – A. Bunnywurm B. Mars on Fire C. Heart Shaped Mc Bubba D. Big Yon” is to be re-recorded for a record called Shithawk, I have no idea and wouldn’t dare speculate, since BerT seem to fly on impulse anyway. That, however, is half the fun, and if you have your appreciation for the absurd in good working order and you don’t mind a rough production, Stoner Boner’s as entertaining musically as it is in everything else BerT do, right down to the logos on the faces of the band members on the cover art.
They chiefly traffic in riffs and charm, and the experimental sensibility seems to be driven more by laissez-faire creativity than by some pretense at genius. That is, Clark, Jordan and Andrews aren’t cloying at the “experimental” tag, they just wind up with it because they’re weirdos and do things like throw broken-sounding electric drums on the end of Stoner Boner opener “Winds of Neptune.” All the same, it’s the sense of melody in the vocals of Andrews and Jordan that helps make the early cuts standout, showing that BerT are well familiar with the rules of songwriting they’re willfully ignoring if not outright defying. The first three songs, “Winds of Neptune,” “Samsquanch” and “Human Bone Xylophone” are over in five and a half minutes, but it’s not like BerT are blasting out grindcore tracks or anything like that – they just don’t repeat parts. A riff cycles through once or twice and is replaced by another, verses work themselves out, and a rough but fascinating aesthetic emerges. I don’t want to call the verse of “Samsquanch” a hook, because it’s not, but the post-grunge vibe in the melody is engaging whether it aims to be or not. Once more, they end with what sounds like electronics or otherwise distorted noise, and “Human Bone Xylophone” reminds of the simplicity of earliest EyeHateGod without ever really being completely sludge. The guitar leads and the bass and drums stop in tandem, affecting a rudimentary groove that falls apart with about 20 seconds left in the song to make room for some recorded clowning around that crashes headfirst into “Persuaded,” a cover of fellow Lansing outfit Tahquamenon Falls. Allegedly. At three minutes, it’s the longest song BerT have so far presented (that closer is still to come) and it does seem to follow a more verse/chorus based approach, but of course, it also has more time to do so. Its plodding pace and sleepy vocal delivery come through well as a transition into the mega-stomp of “Trample the Dead.”
Recorded, so they say, using a “three-couch method” the idea for which is credited to Clark, “Trample the Dead” sounds essentially like the rehearsal-room demo it may very well be, but truth be told, I like listening to rehearsal room demos. They’re the rawest look at the creative process a band can provide without actually asking you to pick up an instrument, and the overwhelming low-end air-push of “Trample the Dead” is all the more abrasive for the harshness with which it was captured. It’s not like everything else on Stoner Boner was polished up in ProTools, but “Trample the Dead” sounds and feels like it was played 10 minutes before they started pressing the CDs, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s awesome. Entirely instrumental and accounting for more than half the total runtime, it sounds in each measure like it might just fall apart entirely, but it never does until the band cut it off of their own accord and cap the release with a few more seconds of bizarre, off-putting noise. Flaunting their inaccessibility as they do throughout Stoner Boner probably is going to limit BerT’s appeal, but they show as much character melodically as they do in the shenanigans surrounding the music or in their brevity. If this really is to be the course they’re setting for the next three albums – which should just about get them through to Spring 2013 – then they’ve given themselves room to grow while also teasing an emerging consistency in their sound. In short, they seem to be on the right track. If they can keep their sense of humor about them, or at least not fall into the trap of taking themselves too seriously, while also continuing to grow melodically and holding onto their sense of immediacy, BerT should arrive (if one can dare use such a word) at a unique place under the umbrella of heavy. If they release another eight or nine records along the way, then the journey along with them will just be that much more fun. Stoner Boner is certainly that.
Tags: BerT, Lansing, Madlantis Records, Michigan