Despite lacking the entire picture, Our Brand Could Be Your Life is as packed with as much profundity, wit, and energy as any indie debut this year.
There is something about Bodega Bay that hearkens back to a time when a band could be your life -- although, as their song “ATM II” asks, “Why would you want somebody’s band to be your life / even if it was your own?” Our Brand Could Be Your Life, Bodega Bay’s 33-track debut, introduces guitarist/singer/songwriter Bodega Ben Hozie, drummer Taiko Aiko Masubuchi, vocalist Josef von Weikmann, vocalist/SP-404 player Nikki Belfiglio du Jour, guitarist Chef Jacob Kaplan, and bassist Floor Tom Miller High Life, a six piece with the personality and sparkle to warrant their own zine (the Our Brand lyric book may look like a 33 ⅓ book on the outside, but it’s pure zine on the inside). They also have a winning sound (‘90s indie with post-punk brevity and vigor) keen lyrical chops, and the cultural reference points to incite discussion and offer intelligent signposts along the path of cultural consumption. True to the totemic, pop art ATM on the album’s cover, the cultural consumer is a primary concern of Bodega Bay and Our Brand. Many questions -- on the value of music, the state of Brooklyn’s DIY community -- are asked during the album’s hour-long runtime, inviting all but the most passive listener to engage in active consumption.
Rather than being a mere provocateur, Hozie is a clever and concise commentator, someone with the talent to turn a tricky line like “love to get to love you but show me what’s your net worth” into a shout along chorus. The five song “Cultural Consumer” suite which closes the album somehow makes the whole “I can’t believe in the fact you’ve never even heard of that” argument catchy. “Cultural Consumer IV” is worth quoting in full and, coupled with a killer melody line delivered by von Weikmann, works as a nice culmination of all the catchiness, wit, and titillation that came before.
Other songs play with form in inspired ways. “Webster Hall”, for example, shifts perspective from the first verse (Hozie) to the second (Belfiglio) to show two sides of a concert-going experience. There are also moments of poignancy, displayed most prominently on the low-key “Protean” and two stand-outs: “16x9”, a slightly Stones-esque ballad about love and art theft, and “Adaptation of The Truth About Marie”, inspired by the novel by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. The latter song is given some added depth via a hazy Wurlitzer line by James Stark of Veda Rays, one of many guest musicians from the local music scene who appear throughout. If we were to categorize Bodega Bay’s sound via an elevator pitch, Pavement meets Pink Flag-era Wire with a dash of Television Personalities probably works as a generalization. Although it is fairly useless by this point to say a band’s sound hews closely to the Velvet Underground’s, Masubuchi’s spirited, mallets-to-toms drumming helps to legitimize this other easy comparison.
The main criticisms that can be lobbed at Our Brand Could Be Your Life have less to do with the songs themselves and more to do with production. The entire album was recorded with an internal Mac mic in the Garageband software application: production-wise, this is a no-frills affair. Sometimes the songs feel like they are coming together as they are being listened to, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. The "no-fi" assault and collage of vocalists that greet the listener on opening track “Performance” give a first impression of a rock ‘n’ roll hydra, but this eases up with repeat listens. With the bulk of the songs clocking in at under two and a half minutes,one song barely sinks in before another begins. Despite Our Brand being largely conceptual, listening piecemeal sometimes reaps greater pleasure.
Despite these quibbles, it’s fairly remarkable that a 33-track album in this day and age has so few lulls. Due to Our Brand concerning itself with the Brooklyn DIY music scene -- references to venues and other Brooklyn artists, as well as covers of other artists’ material, abound -- a layer of the album may be lost on listeners outside the community. Likewise, Bodega Bay’s live shows, which are too scintillating to accurately describe, emphasize the band’s originality in a way that isn’t as readily apparent on a solitary Our Brand listen. Despite lacking the entire picture, Our Brand Could Be Your Life is as packed with as much profundity, wit, and energy as any high profile indie debut 2015 has seen. Order yourself a lyric book, look up some live footage (may I suggest), press play, and ask yourself, “Is everyone you know just an ATM?"