he Durham band has dramatically shapeshifted, over the years, as it's encountered new challenges. But it continues to put out bracing, beautiful work.

Bombadil: In Color  |  ★★★½ | Ramseur  |  Friday, June 2

When thinking about Bombadil, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the Durham band’s heartening resilience.

The affably off-kilter pop band persisted through member Daniel Michalak’s temporarily debilitating nerve condition, around the close of the ‘00s, and the departure of founding members Bryan Rahija and Stuart Robinson, several years later.

Throughout all this the band has hung on, putting out some of its most bracing and beautiful work with only Michalak and James Phillips remaining from the band’s original core.

On In Color, the duo finds a fresh spark of creativity in overcoming its latest hurdles: an ocean and a pandemic. In 2019, Michalak moved to France. To keep their internet-based recording fun, the band made two rules for themselves:

1. They would alternate writing songs that emotionally responded to the different colors of a color wheel.

2. On each song, one of them would compose chords and instrumentation while the other would handle melody and lyrics; if you wrote a part, you couldn’t play or sing it, and instead had to pass it along to another collaborator, like guests Nick Vandenberg and Skylar Gudasz and new band member MK Rodenbough, who contributed vocals later in the process.

When it comes to the music, this process works beautifully, reshuffling Bombadil’s mix of acoustic and electric elements and peppering in some surprising pet sounds to create exciting, resonant arrangements.

Lyrically, In Color can sometimes feel more distant than other Bombadil efforts, the concept and recording method restricting the group’s typically intense emotional honesty. But the songs in which everything lines up are among the band’s best.

Opener “Brown Pennies” slowly builds up a scuffling symphony of electronic beats, keyboard samples, and acoustic strums as Michalak struggles to focus on how the word can feel “so good and fine” when gravity (and inflation) make it seem pointless to break open your piggy bank. Phillips stares down “Yellow Clouds” of sneeze-inducing pollen, pondering mortality as he longs for lazy summer days to “swim in the dirty river / Drink beer every day,” wandering through amiable strums, rich harmonies and a laidback haze of various synth textures.

Flutters of guitar and a shifting backdrop of whirring electronics back Rodenbough, who brings lilting serenity to “Indigo Seamstress,” chasing the ineffable feeling conjured by a color that “does not exist.”

Other songs connect less powerfully.

The stomping electro-pop of “Orange Planets” is a blast, landing like Animal Collective doing Genesis, but the central metaphor comparing “a galaxy of pretty people” to “a bowl of oranges spilling on the carpet” is blunt, and other songs bear some forgettable lines. “Purple Architecture” reaches a clever conclusion—observing two could-be lovers who pass on the avenue and “share a commonality in ignoring architecture”—but the “Day in the Life”-ish verses swerve too close to the banality they describe.

In the end, though, In Color succeeds as another expression of a band determined to persist and find compelling new ways to reinvent themselves. For those of us listening along, this remains affirming.

Comment on this story at music@indyweek.com.

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