by Max Freedman (@anticlimaxwell)
Bueno is setting itself up to fail. This Staten Island five-piece’s name, the Spanish word for “good,” gives the first impression to listeners is that, well, it must be good. Or maybe, looking a bit past the surface, this band name is a clever bit of self-deprecation, a view into the worries and nervousness that accompany bringing your art to the public. Illuminate Your Room, the band’s second album, makes the case for both: it’s a great album boasting songs that overflow with personality, and its lyrics often reflect a slew of anxieties that deftly complement the songs’ jittery arrangements.
Illuminate Your Room’s twelve songs often pair the gradual growl of lightly overdriven guitars and vocalist Luke Chiaruttini’s plainspoken vocals with stories of urban decay and personal dissatisfaction, whether Chiaruttini’s own narrative or that of a tertiary character he brings into the fray. “I feel so raw/ I feel so raw/ and I feel so raw/ and it’s only my thousandth bar,” he sing-speaks over the punk energy of “I Feel So Raw,” a song that sees Chiaruttini questioning his values in a game of devil-vs-angel-on-the-shoulders. “Burn This Year” laments the time invested in a failed relationship against an imposing riff that would feel at home on an early Black Sabbath album (although the 70s-inspired synth, the only of its kind on the album, lying at the periphery of this song disqualifies it from truly fitting in there). The daggers in hearts and burning time in effigy that delineate the narrative of “Burn This Year” present the clever, precise nature of Chiaruttini’s lyrics particularly strongly; his fleshed-out, precise imagery makes the music all the more interesting.
Whereas this song and “Raw” are first-person tales, “Blown Out” navigates the circumstances of others – a morning in a disheveled man’s decaying life, the fear of a larger group – over a gradually churning mess of spiny dissonance. Point of view is secondary to the merit of Bueno’s songs; their observations and sounds are so sharp, it’s impossible not to pay attention. Even on “I Got Your Back,” which might be the only song here that explores any feelings that even approach positivity (“you know that I got your back, ‘cause you’re my boy”), Chiaruttini’s words paint a vivid picture to show rather than state his feelings. “I know that you’ve got other ideas/ but I have been waiting for years” is a shockingly simple yet effective painting of the impatience that accompanies constantly giving a friend advice to which they don’t listen; “hey man, take a fuckin’ shower/ ’cause you’ve been in bed for hours/ and I can’t abide by that sort of behavior” later arrives as an even more frustrated view of a friend choosing not to properly cope with their depression.
If “I Got Your Back” feels significantly less dystopian than the rest of this album, despite such a clear depiction of depression, that’s because its instrumental is a sore thumb among the rest of the album. Save for “Babyface,” the remainder of Illuminate Your Room replaces six-string sunshine with power chords and mini-guitar solos from punk’s late teenage years. “Oh Lord I’m Confused” and “Burn This Year” arise from badly ventilated, poorly soundproofed garages; “Eye on the Cards” is a dip into Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ pool; “Blown Out” and “Washed Away” present a moderate take on the punk explosions that follow; “I Feel So Raw” and “Hizznherz” straddle a line between smiling and sneering. Bueno fits a handful of styles under one roof, each take aligning expertly with its topical matter and the deadpan in which Chiaruttini often delivers his pointed lyrics.
Bookending Illuminate Your Room are “Rosebank 5:00 AM” and “Illuminate Your Room (Rosebank 4:59 AM).” These tracks might be the most telling of how this album progresses; “Rosebank 5:00 AM” lets a bit of light shine into its eerie piano instrumental, but by the time the album ends with “Illuminate Your Room,” the high-fructose buzz of “Babyface” has sapped all the optimism from these guys. A dim, cabaret-like piece of Closer-esque slog, this ultimate track ends Illuminate Your Room on a fairly devastating note. An album with lyrics so frequently morose and cynical wouldn’t work well to end on a bright note, though; worrying about Bueno setting itself up to fail was clearly the wrong anxiety to focus on.