Bumps – Bumps

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Bumps is the side project of Tortoise drummers John McEntire, John Herndon and Dan Bitney, and, as such, it’s exactly what you’d expect: an album of drums and nothing but. And yet, it’s less than what you’d expect. It delivers a spare, almost clinical examination of break- and non-breakbeat, experiments in complex, danceable rhythms, but at no point does it pretend to be music. This is an album of samples, of drumlines for unwritten rap battles, unscripted chase scenes. Far be it from anyone to suggest that the seminal 90s post-rock band Tortoise was a little, well, overrated, but certainly the members aren’t superstars to the extent that people would be clamoring over each other to collect their throw-away projects. So, why was this album made?

Well, for money, obviously. Clearly these are samples intended to be bought by music producers with loftier intentions than the Tortoise threesome, and hopefully to eventually become music of the type we’re more familiar with. And the tracks have plenty of promise. There’s technical variety and a lot of good ideas, like the nervous side-to-side beats on “Intermission Pt. 1” that flow down the line like a hydroplaning engine, or the calypso-inspired “A Safe Balm”, which is so Island only the over-played cymbals reveal that these dudes are white. “Baby Johann” breaks the beat with a flair straight out of the Chemical Brothers (or, the Beatles). The low end of “…As bond did” is loud and round enough to introduce a film. And “Nashira” is a Latin flavor-of-the-week so energetic and so into the snare and hats it just begs for a killer bass line to carry it to pop glory.

And yet, this is supposed to be an album, by a band, and not a licensed sound effects box. Does the front lend more credibility to the trio? Are they getting a better deal out of it because it’s a released album? Because the average listener is going to get next to nothing from this record. Yes, the tracks are fun of themselves, but there’s 23 of them, they’re all under 2:13, and they’re all drums. At best you could put a track on repeat and attempt some sort of freestylin’, but to play the album straight through is about as entertaining as listening to your neighbor’s dance music through several layers of sheet rock.