It has been said that banality is a defense against being overwhelmed. If so, then one listen to The Bastards of Fate’s Who’s a Fuzzy Buddy? may prompt you to up your prescription of Xanax. Cacophony crashes head-on into balanced harmonies, and found sounds blend with outsider elements, all layered with beats that have you dancing one minute and slamming the next. When spitting out 99-cent singles is almost a style de rigueur and many bedroom musicians are riding the chillwave, Roanoke, VA’s The Bastards of Fate are neither reinventing nor redefining rock and roll, just providing some re-invigoration.
Led by Doug Cheatwood, who had been doing the one-man band thing for a couple of years, Doug Cheatwood and The Bastards of Fate first came together in early 2005 (Cheatwood dropped his name in 2006). Recruiting guitarist Benjamin Pugh, bassist Jason Wells, and drummer Doug Shelor, the lineup was solidified with the addition of Camellia Delk on violin and keyboards, the yin that balances the band’s eccentric yang.
Visually, the band’s quirky style is evident in their non-matching jackets and ties, the oversized afro wig adorned by Wells, and Cheatwood’s use of a confetti gun (which has contributed to the group getting banned from numerous venues). Musically, it is heard from the opening moments of garbled banter before they are blown away by a harmonica on “Digging Up Dinosaurs”. It carries through the goofy electro-pop and demonic, spastic punk, ending with album closer “Nobody Loves You” and its horrific cries of “why?”, the sound like a possessed cat clawing through your brain.
Of Buddy’s 12 tracks, four (“Digging Up Dinosaurs”, “Oedipus Rex”, “The Sweet Touch” and “Spaceheater”) were originally recorded during Cheatwood’s solo days. Of these, only “Spaceheater” is drastically different in style from the other tracks, evolving from an abandoned voice akin to the delivery (but not the content) of Elliott Smith or Matt Sharp, into a groovy, synth-laden track that percolates as it moves along.
Blending danceable pop with the avant kudos of Beefheart and Oingo Boingo, the Bastards excel at the slightly outré brand of pop music that is at the heart of Who’s a Fuzzy Buddy?. All of this is heard in Pugh’s ferocious riffs on “Impossible Feelings”, Delk’s rolling keyboard in “The Zero Hour” (possibly channeled from the same part of the universe that inspired Europe’s “The Final Countdown”), and the hardcore synth-punk collage in “Harlequin Fetus” that simply begs the question: “What the fuck?” The entire band chanting “everybody’s on drugs” at the end of “Fan Fiction Writer” fits that same agenda. But the band’s musicianship, humor, and inter-connectivity all come together on “Police 9000”, easily the album’s centerpiece. It’s the most demonstrative of the band’s individual personalities working together toward a singular vision.
With a debut album as strong as their live shows, The Bastards of Fate are poised to leave behind their sleepy little mountain town. They have managed to create not only an original album, but one that still retains a sense of the familiar. It’s askew enough to warrant a listen, but not alienating, revealing more of itself upon repeat listens. And if that isn’t a perfect reason to check out an album, I don’t know what is.
Suggested Tracks: “Police 9000″, “Spaceheater”, and “Impossible Feelings”