If you remember Buke and Gase as that experimental duo who play the instruments they built themselves, you might want to adjust your expectations before listening to 2019's Scholars, their first full-length album after a five-year recording layoff. In their previous work, Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer constructed their music around two instruments of their own creation, the buke, a large, six-string relative of the ukulele played by Dyer, and the Gass, a fusion of the guitar and the bass used by Sanchez. However, while both instruments are part of the mix on Scholars, this time around the duo have pared back on organic instrumentation and jumped deep into electronics. Keyboards and digital percussion are dominant in the mix, and synthetic manipulation of the voices and instruments give this music a new personality that's playful but curiously alien, as if this is herky-jerky pop music from some alternate universe. Of course, Dyer and Sanchez have always been more interested in angles than clean lines, and in many respects this follows the framework of instrumental interplay that was the foundation of their most compelling music on 2010's Riposte and 2013's General Dome. But if the theory is not dissimilar on Scholars, the practice gives us an album that sounds bigger and bolder but less intimate than their most engaging work. At the same time, there's a wry tone to Scholars that has been largely absent from Buke and Gase's material; "Grips" generates something close to a groove as the buke echoes down the hallways, "Pink Boots" gives Dyer a chance to sing like a diva and it suits her, the short bursts of "QI Ball" and "Temporary" show these folks are having fun messing with the new noises at their fingertips, and the strut of "Derby" could be an R&B hit in another world. There are moments on Scholars where Buke and Gase are clearly still finding their feet in their new electronic landscapes, but the album is an ambitious and adventurous set of music that's every bit as engaged as anything they've ever released, and there's an undertow of discovery that makes their new music an adventure worth a spin or two.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming