BIG STIR RECORDS is slyly delighted to announce the April 1 release of a unique, surprise new album from THE ARMOIRES, available on CD and digitally at www.bigstirrecords.com/store and everywhere. INCOGNITO is the culmination of a six-month “secret project” that saw the Burbank quintet release a series of singles under fictitious band names, experimenting with their own identity in order to rediscover themselves. It's fifteen brand new tracks encompassing originals, covers, and the dazzling variety of styles and genres the band explored while working undercover. The record is sprawling and experimental, but anchored to the singular harmonies of founders CHRISTINA BULBENKO and REX BROOME, and sounding unmistakably like THE ARMOIRES.
All eight pseudonymous singles, released between October 2020 and April 2021, are collected here in a deluxe CD package. A slipcase featuring the band in disguise reveals their umasked portraits when removed, and a foldout mini-poster displays the sleeve art for each single as issued under the original invented band names. It's an apt presentation for a document of one of the most unusual pop-rock responses to the challenges of the past year.
So, what do imaginative kids do when they get grounded? They make their own fun. Over the past six months The Armoires, as they put it, decided to “play dress-up,” and it turns out the world is very lucky that they did. Teased out in eight segments from the Halloween season through April Fool's Day, the delirious results are now collected on disc as INCOGNITO. And, in the cherished tradition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands, and The Dukes Of Stratosphear, their decision to go in incredibly diverse directions under eight brilliant disguises has led to some of the warmest and most rewarding moments in their already cherished catalog.
Following their acclaimed 2019 album ZIBALDONE and the installation of new drummer JOHN BORACK, The Armoires found themselves writing songs for a “real live-in-the-studio record”, with no end in sight for their relentless touring schedule. And then (bang bang) COVID's silver hammer came down upon those plans. Faced with not only the challenge to respond as artists but also an uncertain fate for their roles running Big Stir Records, frontpersons Rex (vocals, guitar) and Christina (vocals, keys) made the difficult decision to delay the planned-for “proper” third album until full in-person collaboration returned to the table as a possibility.
But as Broome and Bulbenko, in their record label personae, passionately pushed the music of others, the music pushed back. Sister labels like Futureman, SpyderPop and Curry Cuts continued to send challenging commissions down Burbank way for that deep woody Armoires veneer. Balancing commerce and creativity, the pair (and the band) carried on to fulfill those requests with several delightful covers -- XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime,” John Cale’s “Paris 1919,” Andy Gibb’s “Words and Music,” 20/20’s “The Night I Heard A Scream,” and Christie’s “Yellow River.” A new home-recording workflow emerged. The Armoires were reborn, reconfigured.
Between all of these homages and Christina's renewed fascination with a handful of unfinished originals that never quite fit the Armoires mold, an ingenious concept for presenting the new work emerged. Maybe these weren’t an album, but a series of singles (Big Stir’s kind of great at those, after all). And with all the diversity in the arrangements and even the authorship... maybe they could play with who “The Armoires” are in how the tracks saw release. Maybe they would create an eclectic roster of “other” bands, with idiosyncratic backstories, and release the singles under those bands’ names. Maybe it was time to find themselves by being someone else.
The freedom afforded by this masquerade approach set the tone for the most playful sessions ever undertaken by the group. As to the “fake bands” invented as the facades for the singles, they're shorthanded by Rex as follows: “Art rock for October Surprise, 'sunshine sludge' for D.F.E., straight roots country for The Chessie System ... glam-psych for The Ceramic Age, cowpunk for Zed Cats, C86 tweeness for Tina & The Tiny Potatoes, shameless vintage college rock from Gospel Swamps. And a more pure strain of power pop than we've ever attempted, framed as the cartoon band The Yes It Is!” Two of these nonexistent bands would even land airplay on Rodney Bingenheimer's Sirius XM show -- an Armoires first and longtime dream -- despite their true identity remaining unrevealed until now. Others garnered warm reviews and inquiries as to where more could be found.
Every Armoires release is a family affair, with the mother-daughter axis of vocalist/keyboardist Christina and violist LARYSA BULBENKO at its heart. With bassist CLIFFORD ULRICH sidelined by his essential-worker duties, the father/child duo of Rex and MIRANDA BROOME split the bulk of the album’s bass work. RIDLEY BROOME provides the graphic design, complemented by watercolors from Larysa. “Yellow River” even brings on board Rex’s father “COACH” JIM BROOME for a vocal cameo, and “Bagfoot Run” sees Larysa's progressive bluegrass outfit THE OLD CORN LICKERS providing the freewheeling, rootsy foundation. But this being a Big Stir production, “family” extends to the global pop community as a whole, and remote collaborations abound.
The friendliest of ghost voices are supplied by The Corner Laughers on “Paris 1919.” Blake Jones croons on (and co-wrote) “Homebound”. Peter Watts (Spygenius) adds 12-string to one track, and among the guitarists in play across the album are Dolph Chaney, Chris Church, Jon Melkerson (Eggplant), and Nathaniel Myer. The guest cast for “Senses Working Overtime,” alone encompasses Chaney, Jones, bassist Julian Moss (Charms Against The Evil Eye) and Karen Basset (Pandoras) on the drums. Longtime collaborator Derek Hanna and The Brothers Steve's Steve Coulter each take turns behind the kit, but it's Borack who dominates in his debut as the band's definitive drummer, fueling the vibe of rediscovery and reinvention at the record's heart. An international coterie of audio wizards split the remote mixing duties: Adam Brisben, Joel Valder, Steven Wilson (Plasticsoul), Michael Simmons (sparkle*jets U.K.), Peter Watts, and Nick Frater (fresh off his own 2020 BSR debut Fast & Loose).
As unusual as the project is, the band’s core -- the great songs, sound, and unique chemistry of the central members -- remains in good health, and as clear and present as ever. Giddy looseness reigns, but there’s no shortage of finely-figured craft in the songwriting, harmonies, and arrangements. And there’s a new confidence, even a palpable swagger, to the performances. The drifting “(Just Can’t See) The Attraction,” the hilariously looming memesplosion “I Say We Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit,” the chugging “Walking Distance,” the epic, Miyazaki-derived “Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place,” and the prog-stomping “Awkward City Limits” are among the disparate highlights. The Armoires here are a band – or several bands – for all seasons.
INCOGNITO may be viewed as a collection of singles, an experimental but giddy pop album in its own right, or a sequential journal of a band reinventing itself for its own time and the days to come. Far from the sound of a band marking time during a challenging period, it's a document of joy and discovery despite the tenor of the times. As THE ARMOIRES unmask themselves and invite you in on the secret of their Cosplay Singles, Larysa sums up the record in her liner notes: “We hope you find a little of us, a little of you, and a little of whatever else you’re looking for on this journey to self-discovery through going INCOGNITO.”