[Album Review] Vundabar Light A Fire With “Smell Smoke”

By: Hope Ankney

A fire has been lit underneath the sheer talent of Boston-based rock band Vundabar leading listeners to experience the appropriately named third installment: Smell Smoke.

The vast musicality the group has- ranging from 80’s new wave to powerful, modern post-punk keeps them from fitting into a specific mold that the music industry seems to pigeonhole artists into. Their ability to produce contagious tracks full of commanding instrumentals and profound lyrical content solidifies their footprint in the scene. Their newest release being no exception with Vundabar choosing to peel the mask off the challenges of health declination and pharmaceutical gluttony in a style that is anything but morbid. The record coaxes the listener into having fun with enticing distortions and catchy hooks amidst the downtrodden lyrics of loss and American capitalism allowing breathing room for the complexity behind the vocals.


The creation of Smell Smoke stemmed from lead singer Brandon Hagen’s personal exposure to a four-year battle involving the physical and mental decline of a loved one. His intimacy with the subject is displayed throughout the ten-tracks with Hagen examining the fluctuation of life and behavior after the universal reality of death. By doing so, he curates an album that not only spotlights the band’s striking longevity but their willingness to tackle thin-skinned issues head-on.

The audience can feel the therapeutic release as Smell Smoke is surrounded by the juxtaposition of heavy-handed lyrics and lively instrumentation. The voltage of Hagen’s guitar proves to be the frontman upon this release, fans being able to enjoy the experimentation and power that Vundabar is known for. Drummer Drew Mcdonald can be highlighted as well for his work on tracks like “Harvest” where the drums carry the burning attitude of grief and loss.


Those who have not experienced grief can not grasp the despair it causes. A loved one’s passing comes to us as much as it comes to affect our characters. It’s important that Hagen was able to compose a record that expresses the hardship sympathetically and realistically. This can be shown through tracks such as “Acetone” where one struggles to balance their care-free public image while privately dealing with the impact of grief and “$$$” where Hagen grits “Money doesn’t talk. Money screams” symbolizing monetary leverage and the cost of healthcare in a country that rarely regards health as it is.

So, whether one laughs at a funeral or chooses not to cry at all, Vundabar is able to express that dealing with loss comes in an array of packages. “Smell Smoke” is a beautiful journey documenting grief and self-examination through an artist rock lens, and as crucial a topic they chose to cover, the group was able to successfully persuade the listener that woe can be met with smiles no matter the stereotypical ideology. And that is this project’s crowning achievement.


Make sure to catch the band on their current headlining tour with Ratboys which includes Savannah Stopover and SXSW.

06 March – Philadelphia, PA @ philaMOCA
07 March – Washington, DC @ DC9
08 March – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
09 March – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle (back room)
10 March – Savannah, GA @ Savannah Stopover Music Festival
11 March – Orlando, FL @ Will’s Pub
13 March – New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
17 March – Dallas, TX @ Trees
20 March – Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge
21 March – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
22 March – Boise, ID @ Treefort Music Fest
23 March – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
24 March – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
27 March – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
28 March – San Luis Obispo, CA @ SLO Brew
30 March – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
31 March – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
01 April – Phoenix, AZ @ The Rebel Lounge
04 April – St Louis, MO @ Blueberry Hill Duck Room
05 April – Madison, WI @ The Frequency
06 April – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
07 April – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
08 April – Milwaukee, WI @ Shank Hall
10 April – Lakewood, OH @ Mahall’s
12 April – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz PDB
13 April – Burlington, VT @ ArtsRiot
14 April – Portland, ME @ Space Gallery



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