Say that you’re a dude on a date with a hippie girl. She’s real sweet and cute, although a little flaky, and you get the sense that she likes to smoke a lot of pot. Anyway, you really like her. Over dinner at some farm-to-table restaurant in midtown, she mentions that her favorite bands are My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon. Somehow, you end up back at your place, drinking wine on the couch. She asks if you’d like to smoke a joint. You agree and decide it’s time to put on some music.
Now, what album to choose?
Reno band Bluff Caller’s debut album The Jungle Academy might be a good choice for this situation. It’s lightly psychedelic, but also smooth enough for a romantic evening. The band’s vocalist and guitar player Cody Rea describes Bluff Caller as “alternative rock, with R&B undertones at all times”—which is a little vague. The group is a sort of psychedelic roots rock band, with a bit of funk and soul, especially in the rhythm section. Rea’s vocals and songwriting are evocative of British singer-songwriter David Gray or Glen Hansard of the folk rock group the Swell Season and the musical movie Once—sort of on the hipper end of what used to be euphemistically called “adult contemporary.” The songs have a lot of texture and dreamy atmosphere—might call it dreampop.
The band started three years ago while Rea and guitarist/keyboardist Spencer Mead were college roommates who started writing songs together. They eventually recruited drummer Dominic Kelly, and Rea asked his brother Greg to play bass, even though he had never played the instrument before.
“He came to me and said, ’Do you want to be in a rock band? Here’s a bass. Learn how to play it,’” says Greg.
It’s surprising that Greg had little musical experience before joining the band, because his bouncy, syncopated bass parts lock perfectly into Kelly’s funky drum patterns. Mead is the atmosphere and utility man, alternating between guitar and keyboards, sometimes changing back and forth within single songs.
Everybody in the band sings, though Cody Rea always takes lead and his brother is the primary harmony vocalist. The brothers’ voices complement each other well in the way that’s usually only possible for vocalists related to one another.
The Jungle Academy has a funny, intentionally retro album cover, a throwback to the pink neon, skinny ties and perfect coifs of ’80s new wave.
Rea’s lyrics are mostly about girls and other college-aged concerns, though he also writes about what he calls “generational stuff,” like the song “90s Kids,” which he describes as “an ode to being raised by technology.”
“Keys, Wallet, Phone,” a title that references the walking-out-the-door checklist, is “actually a song about losing all three,” according to Rea. (The lyric “we got so fucked up last night” pops out.)
In the song “Bipolar Sky,” airy, reverbed-out guitars and vocals seem to drift off, evaporating, before turning into a solid, icy groove. “Retro Grouch” is an actual out-and-out rocker, with rolling, propulsive drums and harmonized guitar leads that will satisfy a Thin Lizzy fan.
But despite the moments of evoking the power of ’70s mustache rock, Bluff Caller is primarily a relatively mellow, accessible band.
“We do tend to get more girls to shows than guys,” says Cody.
So, six months later, when that hippie chick is now your girlfriend, and it’s her turn to pick a date night activity, don’t be surprised when she says she wants to go see Bluff Caller.