For most adults, inhibitions are usually only jettisoned under the influence of alcohol; that age-old social lubricant can give you enough confidence to dance, for example, at a family wedding with people you’d ordinarily feel uncomfortable tying your shoes around. Fortunately for them, children aren’t so embedded into this system of respectability. At least not until society corrects them, and they’re taught to feel shame for telling a joke that doesn’t land. On Broken Equipment, New York post-punk band BODEGA channel uninhibited, child-like confidence to create a fun though uneven sophomore album.
Composed of vocalists Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, bassist Adam See, percussionist Tai Lee, and guitarist Dan Ryan, BODEGA come across as politically charged bohemians, using the status quo as a punching bag while coasting by on the intrinsic coolness of the post-punk new wave sound.
Lead single and opener, “Thrown”, an inspired song and one of the best found amongst the album’s 12 tracks, features vocals calling and responding across chugging bass and dance floor-filling hi-hats in a style reminiscent of B52’s and Suburban Lawns but closer in age to the Rapture and New Young Pony Club. You’ll thankfully be too busy bopping to analyze the disjointed lyrics.
“Doers” is a self-assured railing against the rat race of the Big Apple, with Hozie, in his typical cynicism declaring, “This city’s made for the doers. The movers, shakers, non-connoisseurs.” He struggles with accepting his fate as one of these ‘doers’ (he’s in a relatively successful band, after all) even though it’s making him “bitter, harder, fatter, stressed out”. From Hemingway references to marginally intelligible stream-of-consciousness lyrics to a breakdown of a daily internet schedule (“Ten minutes: Bandcamp, ten minutes: wiki browse, ten minutes: planning my next ten minutes”), Hozie delivers in a rap-rock style that sounds more nu-metal than new-wave; an exciting contribution to the genre if nothing else.
On “NY Disambiguation”, a pretty melody in the verse carries a recounting of the colonization of the land now known as New York. “The Algonquin speaking Indians went to graves or were used for the trade,” sings a calmer Hozie. The addition of acoustic guitar and light drumming turn this socially conscious track into a folk-punk ballad à la Bright Eyes. However, the song’s anthemic tune makes any sarcasm in the lyrics less obvious, with “New York was founded by a corporation” sounding more like advocacy than criticism. So ambiguous is the message that in their review of the album Beats Per Minute called this song “a gentle, almost lullaby-like track which is clearly full of love for the place they call home”, while DORK magazine wrote the track epitomizes “a generation’s disenchantment to American patriotism”. That’s the importance of contextual subtleties; intent can be misconstrued when songwriters overestimate the listener’s willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt. Depending on your political leanings, it could make for some emotionally jarring toe-tapping.
Single “Statuette on the Console” is a bodacious album highlight with its economic mixing by Bryce Goggin, brevity, and catchiness. It is a straightforward pop-punk song that uses three-chord structures, tempo allegro, and Belfiglio’s devil-may-care attitude to deliver a memorable and quite flawless track. Somewhat incredibly, the group recorded versions of this song in nine different languages. Don’t be surprised if you hear “Statue Auf Dem Stehtisch” while drinking at a dive bar in Berlin or “Estatueta No Console” at a skatepark in Rio.
Despite Hozie and Belfiglio commanding the majority of the stage, See’s bass is the real heart of this album, with its earthy and persistent push, helped along by the expert percussion of Lee and Tai, colored by Hozie’s and Ryan’s guitars. Whereas most bassists can’t resist the urge to add some flavor to their lines, See ostensibly used his contribution to ‘Broken Equipment’ to exercise self-control. There’s rarely a superfluous note; intervals silenced with a stop-start deadening of the strings push you back and forth.
“How Can I Help Ya” is one of the better songs on the second half of this record. Its driving guitars and radio-friendly melody, like “Console”, show the heights BODEGA can reach when they focus on being effective musically rather than ideologically. Elsewhere in the second half, “No Blade of Grass” is a melodic and upbeat number that comes across as admirable, if not a tad preachy. The lyrics virtue signal without offering any constructive ideas: “Catastrophe. Calamity. Market opportunity / Power uses tragedy to stock up on annuity.” “All Past Lovers” is as inoffensive as it is pleasant, and “After Jane” is a surprising turn to psychedelic campfire folk that serves as an introspective closer to an extroverted album.
With a punk-rock ethos throughout, a determination to make you move, and a readiness to foray into the post-punk landscape’s murkier waters, BODEGA have made an album that takes time to digest and so gets better with multiple listens. There are some diamonds in the rough, and it’s seldom uninteresting, but just like a drunk cousin at a wedding, who can make you laugh and is a good lead, Broken Equipment can occasionally grate as it wears you out.