The past week or so, Austin (and most of central Texas) has been under siege by rain. This is a constant this time of year in central Texas, except the past few years have seen us assaulted by what would normally be “hundred year floods,” epic weather events that should appear once in a lifetime, not on an annual basis. And in a few weeks we will be back to gorgeous sunny weather, our reservoirs freshly filled after what had so recently been the middle of a decade long drought but in the background many of us will look upon this beauty with reservations, wondering how much worse next year’s rain will be, how it fits into the irreparable damage we have done to our environment, what other cataclysmic phenomena is on the horizon. Los Angeles’ Bür Gür aren’t from Texas, they’re from California– LA to be exact– so they’ve got a completely different set of sun and mud-centered disasters circling ’round in their minds, yet their new album Have You Lost Your Faith in God? is my soundtrack of choice in this year’s floods, its sunny moments nearly always preceded by ominous synth experimentation, its uplifting musicality grounded by sorrowful lyrics and bad times. The album title might seem cheeky given the otherwise agnostic qualities of the work, but within the context of sunny music for global disasters, it makes sense, either as an afterword or as the kind of question that necessitates the follow-up “Did you ever have faith to begin with?”
That mood is set from the start, with masterful opening track “Afrobeat” establishing a lot of the album’s musical and lyrical framework. A clackety metronomic beat leads into chintzy synths and explosion sounds before an indie pop bass line and an optimistic acoustic guitar emerge from the darkness. We are painted a lyrical portrait of an LA smoothie enthusiast, drinking in the scent of wheatgrass while preparing “ginger shaped like toes,” and then the facade breaks and we are told “The affect of my bad thoughts is still bold” as the anonymous narrator reminisces about the time when you still loved him. “Afrobeat” is California pop for pessimistic aesthetes, fixated on green drinks rather than coke, swimming in the beauty around them but perpetually afraid of drowning in the biblical floods that appear on the horizon.
By “War Games” that metaphor is a little more literal, as “the Pacific Ocean rages freely” in the background of an electro-pop number begging for your attention– we’re looking for company for the end of the world, affection amidst destruction. Bür Gür have a number of notable songwriting skills but perhaps what makes them stand out most is this embrace of juxtaposition, from “Afrobeat” and its constant genre shifts to the goofy contrast of “Couch Spliff,” where pot hued observations are centered by the line “Knocked up that girl/Saw her abortion.” Something is always off in the worlds of Bür Gür’s lyrics but they count on you being distracted by the melodies and cheeky lines so you don’t notice the more jarring traits of their songs until later, forcing you to reconnect with the music long after it’s over, hoping for clarification and meaning only to be met with the confounding ridiculousness of life itself.
To that end, Bür Gür are a group who appear to embrace the album format with far more dedication and planning than the bulk of their peers. Have You Lost Your Faith in God? essentially functions like a DJ mix, the songs bleeding into one another and sometimes sharing beats. After “Afrobeat” and its sunny skies fade, “Lungs” breaks like dusk, whimsical melodies and lyrics playfully emerging from a robotic schoolyard beat, the musical accompaniment restricted chiefly to a solemn organ, acoustic guitar leads and a neverending cavalcade of malfunctioning electronics. The song sometimes strains under the weight of this kitchen sink approach– and at seven minutes long, it could stand trimming– but the environment itself is so comforting these flaws are easy to overlook or even reconfigure as assets. It helps that “Afrobreat” has laid so much of the groundwork, encouraging you to just give in to the experience and not skip around.
Of course, that also means it’s harder to carve up Have You Lost Your Faith in God? into more digestible segments. The intimacy of the lyrics and the uniqueness of their sound would normally make Bür Gür a perfect mixtape act, but Have You Lost Your Faith in God? is so bold and imaginative that you’re more tempted to hand over the entire album. Other than “War Games,” the album’s most contained moment is likely “Green Sauce,” a jaunty yet melancholic electro-acoustic track that springs out of one of the album’s most haunting intros. Featuring a new wave beat and an addictive acoustic riff, “Green Sauce” is a self-reflective afterparty anthem, focused on the seemingly contradictory fact that the narrator is a “partymaker, mover shaker” who is “living on the best coast” but can’t find stability or happiness.
Given the apocalyptic backgrounds on Have You Lost Your Faith in God? it’s hard to tell if the narrator’s anxiety is strictly internal or a symptom of looming doom itself. Distracted and ever shifting, Bür Gür’s Have You Lost Your Faith in God? is an unusually powerful rendering of generational ennui, engaging and lively even when it’s at its most sorrowful. Though Bür Gür never provide any real answers or solutions with the album, there is great comfort in their translations of feelings that for many of us are simply impossible to communicate.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover