Stumblesome crashes into Borg Ward with new CD
Wesley Charles Tank says his band's name "Stumblesome" came to him before falling asleep one night.
"I wrote 'Stumblesome, a physical name' in cursive on the cover of a Franz Schubert record. I showed it to my girlfriend at the time -- now my wife -- and said, 'I think this is my new rap name,'" says Tank. "I was known for falling down a lot in those days."
Today, Tank appears steady on his feet, managing family life -- he was married in September and recently got a puppy -- while cranking out multiple creative projects and performances.
His next gig, called "Noise vs. Hip-Hop," is Monday, Dec. 7 at The Borg Ward, 823 W. National Ave., at 7 p.m. The bill includes Stumblesome, Evolve, Peter J. Woods and Jim Schoenecker from Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir, featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Currently, Tank takes the stage solo, but in the past, he hooked up with musicians Kipp Zavada, Eddie Villanueva, Kris Everson and Seth Warren Crow.
Stumblesome's latest collection, "Becoming," is the seventh release and a reissue of the first two albums, "The Bubble Shell People Change Chain" and "Empty Animal." Milwaukee's Sean Behling mastered both of these CDs, which were originally recorded from 2003 to 2005.
The two albums flow together swimmingly, making 20 songs seem like individual swatches that mesh into one intricate -- yet pattern-free -- blanket of work.
Most of the material features Tank rapping over beats, as well as a superabundance of samples (from films, friends, his mom), raw emotion, organs, non-sequiturs, accordions, chanting and hip-hop, making it virtually -- and refreshingly -- impossible to categorize.
If pressed, Tank describes his sound as "Modified descent, unfolding souls over a vast seas, emptying buckets of suppressed memories from the backlog of several selves, etc."
Although Stumblesome is difficult to label, it might be summed up in the same three words that also serve as the title of the new album's last track, "Conundrum of Consequence." Tank understands that whatever happens in life, the final answer always unveils another riddle.
Lyrically, Tank whips up a wapatuli of truth, humor, horror, reality and fantasy. His lyrics range from extremely dark to breathtakingly poignant. Plus, what sounds like random wordplay is mixed in with snippets from his real life. In "My Favorite Lie," for example, Tank references a doughnut shop that comes off as a weightless mention, but is actually a tribute to a local business that served an important purpose, particularly prior to Tank's first show in 2003.
"I practiced for weeks, rapping to a CD in Sil's Donut stand," says Tank, 26, who worked at the North Avenue drive-up mini doughnut stand during college. "Actually, I wrote most of the album either while working there until 4 in the morning, spilling the donut oil, or on the bus to visit my then-girlfriend-now-wife."
"Becoming" is loaded with lyrical gems, including those in the song "Shave Right" which features the brilliant quip, "some people forgive and forget and some people write screenplays." Later, a line from the the creepy Mr. Rogers Neighborhood-ish tune "I'm So Mad (It's OK)" says "I don't want to die a virgin but I'm sick of these bird brains / flapping their dirty wings when they don't know the first thing / about being a person / they just run around cursing."
The range of emotion in Stumblesome's body of work is abundant, too, and contrasting moods are often intertwined in a single song. For example, in "Hey Ryan," lyrics like "we don't eat mustard when it's hot cuz it sucks" is light and humorous, and yet the music and samples are urgent and melancholy, providing a rich multi-emotional experience.
The versatility of Tank's voice is one of his strongest attributes. Although predominately a rapper, Tank pulls of an ironically cheesy twang in "You Don't Have To Ask" -- a "Harold and Maud"-esque tale about a young man who falls for a much older woman with a lemonade stand -- and more of a punk rock meets indie hip-hop thing in multiple tracks.
Tank's ability to commit thousands of words to memory is impressive. His massive archive of songs combined with his drive to constantly create new work means he is continuously faced with the challenge of memorization.
"Playing new material means constantly memorizing new writing, which is difficult. I tried rapping from a handwritten scroll at a show once, but it was too hard to move down the page with the mic in my hand. So, then I just let go and somehow I remembered everything. It was weird," says Tank.
Despite his bottomless well of words, many of which are abstract, Tank drops succinct bombs of truth that sum up his existence in a few words or less, like when he says "I'm looking for more" in the song "This Sh-t's Called Daisy." It seems Tank searches for truth on a personal level as well as a musical level, and his open mind in both worlds serves as a metaphorical net able to capture slippery truths. And then release them.
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