Hold off on puns about sandwiches in the shadows when mentioning Reuben and the Dark’s masterful debut album, Funeral Sky. The folk record is a striking collection of anthems and dirges fueled by the indelible chemistry of frontman Reuben Bullock and his brother and percussionist, Distance Bullock.
The Calgary four-and-sometimes-five piece—multi-instrumentalists Shea Alain and Scott Munro in addition to the Bullock brothers—have all of the soul of Britain’s Sam Smith and the hit-making potential of Imagine Dragons (though Reuben and the Dark is profoundly less annoying.)
Funeral Sky has some heavy hitters in its corner. The record is produced by the UK’s Chris Hayden (Florence & the Machine) and Canada’s Stephen Kozmeniuk (Madonna, Nicki Minaj) and mixed by Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele). The layered, intricate harmonies and repetitive, infectious lyrics prove that this group is not messing around with its debut.
Rueben’s throaty, masculine vocals give the indie record sex appeal and add earnestness and honesty to the simple, but snappy lyrics. Lines like, “It’s quite a sight for my sore eyes”; “Said I don’t wanna die in the middle of a city/So they wrote it on my headstone”; and “How my lungs became eels became eyes” from the relentless single “Rolling Stone” demonstrate RATD’s lyrical approach—a blend of poetry and turns of phrase that creates a feeling more than a traceable story.
“Rolling Stone” has the same soaring, relentless acoustics of early Mumford and Sons, before they became frat favorites.
Each track is in perpetual motion (notably the charging “Can’t See the Light”), even the heart breakers like “Standing Still” and “Shoulderblade.” In the latter, exposed acoustic instrumentation is peppered with horns. Reuben croons, “I’m trying not to try, but this fire is here before you/…/but you cut like a cold shoulderblade/and hide your love inside my head/and tie my hands behind my back.” In this track and throughout the record, Reuben is nothing without “the Dark.” The group’s impeccable vocal harmonies yank on the heartstrings as they sing, “Call me out.”
In fact, the whole album is a potential exercise in holding back tears.
RATD’s unique blend of folk, soul, blues, and bluegrass makes for an emotive and grounded sound. The banjo-tinged “A Memory’s Lament” is about being with a person who can’t handle heavy burdens, a more obvious story line than what is commonplace on Funeral Sky.
It opens with, “I wrote a song for the ones I remember/A memory’s lament all the lovers I have met/I wrote a song for the ones that I forget/And take these dreams from me, I don’t need an easy way now.” Reuben is joined for a resounding chorus of, “Well, I buried my brother/I buried my lover/I buried my head in hands.”
“A Memory’s Lament” is a powerful, unique track that shifts gears without being jarring, incorporating a heavy, slow drum line and entrancing sustained notes from a horn. It’s these simple additions that make already great songs unforgettable.
Funeral Sky feels timeless while still sounding new. Reuben and the Dark has showed its hand and revealed that it has an uncommon mix of raw power, talent, and chemistry. Whatever “it” is, these guys have it.
Reuben And The Dark- Funeral Sky tracklist:
- “Bow and Arrow”
- “Devil’s Time”
- ”Rolling Stone”
- “Standing Still”
- “A Memory’s Lament”
- “The River”
- “Can’t See The Light”
- “Funeral Sky”
- “Black Water”