Composer Bob Gaulke, self-described as a “rootless cosmopolitan,” whisks a creative whirlpool of genres as he breezes through Brazilian beats, synths, tropicalia, ska, and breezy lounge vibes. Gaulke, a modern-day troubadour, creates songs that aspire to be more than sweet murmurings of love or inarticulate musings of atomized modern existence – they gently break the emotional truth of today.
A new double album has emerged from the NYC songsmith: “The Humanities,” a magnum opus that touches on the state of the world. The Humanities comes in two parts, each a 25-minute chunk of poetry, funk, jazz, and dub. Gaulke writes about life in the Bronx as a “former middle-class gringo traipsing around a 21st-century environment.” This is a place “where people lurch from crisis to crisis, make love, work crushing jobs, raise children, scream in pain, narcotize themselves, dance, shit, and never fall asleep.”
His imagination dwells in a time overrun with normalcy bias, and cognitive dissonance masquerading as progress. Taking cues from Mark A. Stewart, Suzanne Vega, and the dearly departed Tom Verlaine, Gaulke croons, whispers, and screams his poetic musings over rubber bass lines, jazz trombones, and post-punk guitars.
He muses about its creation: “I can hear pieces of my record collection. I can feel places I’ve never been. I can sense how somehow I’ve been able to triangulate a lot of stuff I process daily and make some reasonable guesses about others.” We hear elements of Television, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Heaven 17, The The, The Eels, and even a dash of Beck in this formidable collection of everyday NYC moments. The Humanities I & II is creative, sophisticated songwriting from the perspective of someone who has lived, gained wisdom, and now views the world with a detached amusement. Each song plays out like the soundtrack of a short film by Jim Jarmusch or Amos Poe…a sonic counterpart to the Remodernist film movement that examines the transformation of existing cultural features, using the technology and the sensibility of contemporary rather than nostalgia. The albums are a snapshot of the moment, building upon the lyrical work of Patti Smith and Richard Hell as much as episodes of Seinfeld.
Not one for run-of-the-mill romantic balladeering, Gaulke croons out AI conversations with Uber Eats (“Your Order”), death in the American health care system (“Hospital”), sex with hedge funders (“You and Your Body”), sex with social workers (“Heat Sink”), prison escapes (“Plastic Spoon”), and the value of art at the end of the world (“Useless & Necessary”).
“It wrote me- I can’t make any claim to musical virtuosity, vocal prowess, or poetic genius, but I think I just made the best record of my career,” he concludes.
Gaulke is a regular collaborator on NYC stages with Gil Oliveira, Martin Scian, Matt Carrillo, Kevin Cerovich, Emilia Cataldo, Peri Mason, Suely Mesquita, Richard Von Sturmer, and Pavlo Terekhov. Hailing from The Bronx, Gaulke grew up with the first wave of post-punk as well as the likes of luminaries such as John Cale, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Caetano Veloso.
Kevin Cerovich (drums and trombones), Leon Gruenbaum (keyboards), Kenny Coleman (guitars), and Emilia Cataldo (backing vocals) join Gaulke on The Humanities. The album was mixed and mastered by Martin Scian.
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