Bard and Mustache
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Bard and Mustache

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"Bard and Mustache"

Sarasota singer/guitarist Erin Murphy (Equines) and Philly native cellist Greg Bortnichak (Sparta Philharmonic) met a few years ago, embarked on a whirlwind indie rock romance and started a collaborative recording project they dubbed Bard and Mustache that evolved into permanent pairing after Bortnichak's move to the Sunshine State last year. The two recently merged their respective labels (hers Finch House, his NJ-based Atlas), and simultaneously got engaged and released their third EP, Bitter Painter, in August. Dark, baroque-flavored rock with more urgent pacing and experimentation than previous excursions, Bitter Painter has a lo-fi Grizzly Bear-haunting quality imbued from the all-analog studio and reel-to-reel tape machines they used to record the layers of fuzzy guitars, mechanized beats, and electric violins and looped cellos plucked, drawn through mood-setting swells, liberated in dramatic staccato bursts or scraped forth in squealing scales. The overlap of Murphy's throaty rich vocals and Bortnichak's lower register talk-murmur style and ethereal higher-register add an intriguing capriciousness to the tracks. Also with RUG, RedFeather, Goodnight Neverland
— Leilani Polk - Creative Loafing Tampa


"Bard and Mustache Take Experimental Strokes on New EP"

I have a problem when it comes to discovering an infectious new tune. I’ll play it over and over until I murder it, only to stop when family and friends intervene. If only I could allow the music to breathe, exhale and be savored for another day, I might find time to delve into the back catalogue of so many bands I’ve grown to love. Truthfully, I hadn’t put much thought into this serial song-killing pattern until the recent release of Bard and Mustache’s Bitter Painter EP. From my first listen to the track “More Where That Came From” on WSLR 96.5, I admit — I was hooked and hooked and hooked.

What had me at hello? Perhaps it was the song’s cold, metallic synths coupled by scratchy cello strings, creating a sexy, sinister sound. Perhaps it was singer Erin Murphy’s eerie and striking vocals, something I’ve grown fond of due to her dark vibrato — a woman willing to track mud through the realm of ugly to reach snow-white heights.

Bitter Painter EP

Cover of the Bitter Painter EP.

Murphy’s local music roots trace back to The Equines, a magnetic band that seemed to stop in full gallop on the cusp of something great. For reference, listen to “Unleash The Massive Attack.” There were hints of punk, folk, Breeders, Pixies and early They Might Be Giants combined with elements of tropical rock. An indie wet dream, the sound was hard not to love. Then it was gone, or worse, in limbo. The Equines’ Dali-esque ringleader Greg Ferris began playing fewer shows and Murphy began this very musical project with new beau Greg Bortnichak. Ferris formed Cats in The Basement.

My secret: I wasn’t thrilled. I had childhood flashbacks of Annie Lennox taking a respite from Eurythmics in the ’90s and I was a hot little mess. This time it was worse, though, because it was as if Lennox had left before the release of Savage, minutes before the nervous breakdown she needed to create such a masterpiece. In sum, I was waiting for Murphy to either a) enter a crisis unit or b) release an Equines full-length. Either would have been epic and taken the band to the next level.

So where does that leave Murphy on the new Bard EP? Well, her signature torture tag — full of memorable moans and groans — is still intact, as if every rock in every rocky relationship continues to hurl stones at her chords. Yet with Bitter Painter, we hear a new element to Murphy’s vocals: hope.

Bard and Mustache framed

Photo by Scott Braun.

Perhaps that’s what mixing love and music can do. Bortnichak must have touched the right keys. There’s more of a whisper to Murphy’s words, more sexual prowess — the sound of a woman comfortable with the body of music she’s become. She’s fine-tuned her vocals, losing jagged edges for gelled tones. Bitter Painter finds Bortnichak complimenting her voice, matching her heartache by trying to make sense of it. On “More Where That Came From,” Bortnichak’s voice acts as the eye of the storm before a series of distorted lightning cello strings and choir-like vocals provide a stirring orchestral finish.

Forget what you know about Bard and Mustache. This is no longer a quiet folk act featuring a cello. The lengthy EP opener “I Do” finds the duo angrily professing “I don’t care” repeatedly until admitting they actually do “for you.” It’s the first of many tricks here, warranting the lengthy (and not immediately accessible) track a good listen as it treads into the land of Arcade Fire and The White Stripes, featuring cellos masquerading as electric guitars. Rather adventurous, it plays like a risk-taking builder, featuring an abundance of experimental elements such as ghostly piano keys that will hopefully come full circle on the full-length. The EP title track “Bitter Painter” acts like a happier spinoff, complete with moments of romantic bliss woven into the duo’s harmonies, featuring lyrics like, “When you move with me / I feel like an avalanche or a tsunami.’ Often, the track takes on the feel of a Broadway musical, heart-wrenching until a heartwarming close.

In sum, the Bitter Painter EP finds Bard on the brink of something that could pull the duo in three entirely different directions. Will Bard be able to pull the courageous listener in without swallowing them with too many frantic strokes cluttering the big picture — the love they’ve found? Ultimately, that will be the band’s test on the full-length. Still, as long as Bard is willing to walk the line between catchy, crafty and cathartic, those listening should be more than grateful to stroll beside this poignant duo.

Download the track “More Where That Came From” here. Visit the Bard and Mustache official website here.

- Anthony Paull is a syndicated columnist, author and filmmaker. His debut novel Outtakes of a Walking Mistake is available now.
- This Week In Sarasota


"PREMIER: Bard and Mustache -"Bitter Painter" EP"

Today, I'm honored to share with you Bard & Mustache's new EP, Bitter Painter, in its entirety. Unless someone ripped it and threw it online somewhere before this post was made, this is the only place you can currently hear Bitter Painter online. It was first released into the world last week at the duo's show at The Windup Space in Baltimore. So, for those of you who missed that show or the one in Monteclair, NJ this past Friday, here is the EP in all its glory. I highly recommend checking it out. When you compare where Bard & Mustache (vocalist/guitarist Erin Murphy and vocalist/cellist Greg Bortnichak) were musically on their most recent EP, Found, Bitter Painter sounds like a reinvented band in a number of ways, or rather, a band that has matured very beautifully. And when you consider this is just a rough idea of where Greg and Erin are headed on their forthcoming debut album (due next year), it's a pretty awe-inspiring listen.

Bard & Mustache's music has always been predicated on the relationship between this couple. And while nothing they have released to this point has been bad by any means, it's remarkable to document the evolution and improvement of their sound -- from charming alternative folk numbers to enrapturing experimental folk; their music has gone from being charming indie folk to haunting, gorgeous, encompassing, and intense experimental folk with a sturdy pop backbone. But what makes Bard & Mustache stand out even more these days isn't simply the fact that they've grown as songwriters, it's due to the fact that they've become increasingly adept at conveying the emotional connection both share with one another. As their music has matured, their love has only intensified -- and it's hard not to hear, or even feel, that when you listen to Bitter Painter. So, when it all comes down to it, this is about as honest and real a band can be with a listener. This is a 3D conveyance of mind, body, heart, and soul distilled down to three of the most wonderful songs. Sure, this all may sound relatively dramatic or heavy-handed, but it's really not that at all -- it's beautiful. - Mixtape Muse


"This Little Underground"

Other goings-down included Bard and Mustache (Sept. 13, Will's Pub), a Sarasota duo that plays venturesome, melodic chamber pop. Although more scrappy than polished, the two-piece uses guitar, cello, violin and drum machine in a way that's filled with possibility. They keep their passionate live playing as their life force, judiciously using beat tracks only as ribs to their arrangements. Sometimes the effects obscure their vocal interplay, which sounds like it could be pretty lovely. But given their setup, it's to their considerable credit that they don't play the twee card. Opting for drama, melody and spontaneity instead, they're testing the bounds of pop music a bit. - Orlando Weekly


Discography

Bitter Painter (EP) 8/21/12
FOUND (EP) 2/14/12
Falcor's Burning Belly (EP) 3/4/11

Photos

Bio

Bard and Mustache is the project of independent music veterans, Erin Murphy (Founder of both Finch House Records and widely-popular Florida whimsy-rock outfit The Equines) and Greg Bortnichak (Sparta Philharmonic, Metal Hearts, Circa Survive). The duo met in 2010 while Greg was touring the country with Philadelphia based art-punk duo Sparta Philharmonic, and began recording together in January of 2011 for their first release, Falcor’s Burning Belly, which was self-released in April of that year.

Following consistent touring of the Northeast and Midwest, Bard and Mustache released a follow-up to Falcor’s Burning Belly, called FOUND, in October 2011. FOUND showcased the duo’s sense for nuance and range of expression with acoustic instruments, and followed in the steps of its predecessor utilizing a single live-take, lo-fi recording philosophy. They then toured heavily on FOUND, often in support of well-known national acts including Dinosaur Feathers, Baths, Vacationer, and The Damn Choir.

Early in 2012, Bard and Mustache began writing a new record, employing a completely different approach. Their new set was markedly more complex, reliant on hypnotic rhythms and the expressive potential of pure sound. It became apparent that the band’s new music necessitated a new approach to recording as well, so Greg and Erin got to work building an entirely analog studio, utilizing reel-to-reel tape machines from decades past to ensure that their music stayed as DIY, tactile, and honest as possible.

Recorded between April and May of 2012, Bitter Painter is the first record highlighting both Bard and Mustache’s new sound as well as their approach to documenting it. It also marks their first official release on the record label that they helped engineer together, Atlas/ Finch House Records.