The Armoires: Incognito

The Armoires Incognito
Incognitio is available for purchase on the Big Stir Records website.

A couple of weeks ago, I unwittingly let the cat out of the bag on this surprise. Sometimes it’s a challenge for me to realize that because I am privy to certain comings and goings in the music community, others may not share my advance knowledge. I’d written about the album’s release on Facebook and yanked said post, but now, the proverbial feline is out of the sack for all to enjoy, so I’ll do my best to recall what I said in that ill-fated Facebook post.

I’ve always aimed for a unique “voice” / vibe in what I do, so I appreciate that being a central element of The Armoires. And it’s for that exact reason that I’m not going to attempt to tell you the story behind this album…instead, I will direct you to The Armoires page on the Big Stir Records website, where you can read the whole story from the perpetrators themselves. I’d suggest you go there now and then come back. It’s OK, I’ll be here when you return.

OK, so if you followed the link above, you now know the backstory on the album, and we’re on the same page. Here’s what I’d like to say about the album (NOT a “review”)…

The Armoires…and in expanded roles, Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko…have been at the forefront of the community surrounding Big Stir Records since its inception. Last year, they enlisted the aid of sous-chef Irene Pena to take over the marketing and promotion of the Big Stir Singles, as they continued to orchestrate the remaining label functions while also concentrating on Armoires-related projects. As many a wag has pointed out, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” and what happened in early 2020 was the Coronavirus Pandemic.

All of the “normal” pressure of making a living in the music industry, whether as an artist or wearing the multiple hats of Rex and Christina, became less of a predictable routine and more of a work in progress as everyone struggled to find new ways to get things done. Some projects were shelved, others reconfigured, but in the absence of live gigs and normal channels of production / distribution, nothing went “as planned” in 2019, looking ahead.

Because of the unique place Rex, Christina, and their fellow Armoires hold in the hearts and minds of the aforementioned music community, they could have released virtually anything under the Armoires banner and found it welcomed by that community. They’re friends, and we all want to know that our friends are well, as well as what they’ve been up to during these ridiculous times. IF they had released a follow-up album that was a “logical progression” from Zibalddone / Side Three…if they had done what some might have expected…they would have kept their comfort zone intact, added some new product to the marketplace, and all would have been well in the world.

Except they didn’t do that. They took chances, they took big risks, they took the notion of “who” and “what” The Armoires were and what they were capable of and turned it on its ear.

That opens up a whole new can of worms, because you can be Neil Young and take chances and big risks and turn the whole notion of Neil Young inside out, exactly as he did during his “Geffen Decade,” and at then end of that decade have a string of albums that were deemed neither commercially not artistically successful, for the most part.

The real “sweet spot” in art isn’t thumbing your nose at what you do best, it’s holding on to everything that made you great in the first place and taking your audience into new and uncharted territories that still ring true with your full and undiluted mojo, which is exactly what happened with “Incognito.”

The Armoires spent around a year, give or take, releasing singles under bogus band names in order to cover a lot of stylistic ground that didn’t immediately point back to “Zibaldone.” These experiments were released as Big Stir Singles and ultimately became the foundation for this new album.

What won me over, with the benefit of hindsight, was a somewhat offhand remark Rex made about one of the songs being the ideal framework in which he could channel his inner Neil Young & Crazy Horse. When I heard the album, I new exactly which song he was referring to. And across the 18 tracks of this album, they manage to go in multiple directions without any of it feeling like a stunt, more like The Armoires in the middle of a pandemic channeling their energy into a true “damn the torpedoes” exercise in unshackled creativity.

It’s a liberating experience, a permission slip to other artists to make it good, but also make it everything you’re capable of doing.

It “could” have been a pleasant and predictable follow-up to their last album. Instead, it became a true jaw-dropper of fearless and joyous creativity that still somehow managed to retain all of the strengths and unique elements that put the band on the map. This is one of the most significant and essential albums of 2021, and I encourage you to go to the link above, where you can preview and purchase your own copy.