Roger Sellers is a lot of things. He’s a minimalist composer with a knack for making hypnotic, enveloping songs from a few repeated musical phrases. He’s a gifted musician who is mostly self-taught, having abandoned formal study because it was draining the life from his work. He’s a self-described disciple of Phil Collins. What he is not, however -- despite multiple press reports to the contrary -- is a DJ.
“I started developing a decent following in Austin,” he says, “but most of the time when I would play, the press would say something like ‘Local DJ Roger Sellers,’ or ‘Roger Sellers is playing a late-night DJ set.’ I think it was maybe because my live set involves a table full of gear, a drum set and headphones, but the average person probably knows more about DJing than I do.’” To combat the misunderstanding, Sellers printed up stickers reading, “Roger Sellers is Not a DJ,” and eventually adopted the alias Bayonne, changing his name without altering his approach.
And it’s a good thing: Primitives, Sellers’ debut as Bayonne, is a rich, complex work, the kind with no clear rock parallel. In its winding, maze-like structures are hints of both Steve Reich and Owen Pallett, each instrument working a single melodic pattern over and over and over, as Sellers threads his soft, reedy voice between them. On songs like “Appeals,” the effect is hypnotic: notes from a piano crash down like spilled marbles from a bucket, as Sellers’ ringing-bell vocals swing back and forth between them. The end result is spellbinding music, meticulously-crafted songs where each tiny piece locks into another, and hundreds of them joined together create a breathtaking whole -- like dots in a Seurat, or tiny bones in a dinosaur skeleton.