If The Beatles and Weezer got together and had a baby, and that baby joined the drama club, that baby would grow up to be Bombadil.
Consisting of multi-instrumentalists Daniel Michalak, Bryan Rahija, Stuart Robinson and James Phillips, Bombadil borrows its name from J.R.R. Tolkein’s character, Tom Bombadil, who is equally as enchanting as the Durham-based quartet. Having just released their self-produced, fourth LP, “Metrics of Affection,” Bombadil proves that authenticity mixed with a dash of merriment and a handful of emotion equals the perfect musical recipe.
Last month, the touring members of Bombadil graced the Tipsy Teapot stage in their idiosyncratic band regalia — collared shirts, ties, and accessorized sports coats — and treated a modest but attentive audience to many of the tracks off of their new album. While the live versions of these songs offered a quirky visual to match the lyrics, the intricacies are best revealed and reveled on the studio version. Sitting down with the liner notes, reading the lyrics and allowing the songs to tell their stories truly takes the listener on a journey through the land of Bombadil.
On “Metrics of Affection,” Bombadil stands proudly at the helm of their ship and assumes complete creative control. With production in-house, the band was able to push the boundaries and experiment more than on any previous albums, resulting in a rich but not overproduced collection of songs. While vocals and traditional instrumentation — piano especially — remain at the forefront of each track, thoughtful use of samples, synths and drum machines advances the overall sound without stripping its playfulness and originality.
Throughout the album, vocals and keys emerge in the spotlight, as hints of acoustic guitar round out the sound. Melodic and often flirty piano accompaniments, paired with witty, relatable lyrics about love, loss, whales and cats certainly draw listeners in for a deeper auditory experience.
The album opener, “Angeline,” offers a catchy beat and lyrics of friendly advice to move on from the past, all made sweeter by the charming harmonies of Christy Jean Smith. “Learning to Let Go” is the album’s clap-stomp sing-a-long track, accompanied by faint horns that lend an imperial air.
The ever-popular banjo makes its first appearance on “Born at 5:00,” though it is not what makes this song one of the album standouts. Here, Bombadil succeeds in packing all of the milestones of one man’s life into a 3:11 minute song — a bold and touching reminder of the fleeting nature of of our time on Earth.
“Isn’t It Funny” features a militant drum line underlying Michalak’s first attempt at rapping. With an Eminem-esque cadence, Michalak’s passion surfaces while recounting an illness that almost ended his music career. The men of Bombadil lay their emotions out for the world to hear on heartfelt ballads like “Boring Country Song” and “Have Me,” and heart-breakers like “What Does It Mean” and “One More Ring.” This sentimental roller coaster ride of love and loss is capped off by “Patience is Expensive,” a hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental that oscillates somewhere between hope and despair.
Quirkiness sets in with “When We Are Both Cats,” which speaks of unrequited love and feline reincarnation — not the typical love song, folks. The animal theme continues on the old-timey, maritime track, “Whaling Vessel,” where Bombadil sings from the point of view of a hunted whale. While these song themes may seem off-putting to some, their unique nature translates magically, further lifting the album’s spirit.
Propelled by a rolling piano melody, the album closer, “Thank you,” is the perfect note on which to end this baker’s dozen of goodness. With lyrics like, “Keep your family close/Because when you get in trouble/They’ll be the last to lose their hope/And say your prayers every night/They don’t have to be to God/It just helps to sort your thoughts/And you never know they might be right,” listeners are called on to be grateful and gracious for all of the small, but meaningful moments in life.
Bombadil’s most recent installation combines all that is currently overdone in folk-pop — stomp, claps, banjo, cellos, unidentifiable accents — and somehow makes it feel renewed. Perhaps it is the persistent piano or the eccentric storytelling. Regardless, “Metrics of Affection” is a triumphant composition that covers the emotional spectrum of life and love, beginning with a journey and ending with gratitude.