Still think mohawks and boots are punk rock? Not compared to making music entirely on your own terms.
Two pairs of fists form the cover of Boyracer's latest album, A Punch Up the Bracket -- just the right representation of the group's do-or-die mentality. Staunchly independent, Boyracer is the punkest of the punk, in attitude if not in style.Their singles/greatest hits compilations are named Boyfuckingracer and Punker Than You Since '92. Their live set, and much of their studio work, is soaked in feedback. Their songs are filled with lyrical takedowns of frauds and fakes. They're the anti-superstars, a reminder that the music world is made of people, playing songs for other people.
Sole constant Boyracer member Stewart Anderson takes a DIY approach to recording and releasing music which has yielded a lengthy discography, with split singles and limited-pressings galore. Sometimes it seems like if Anderson finds some extra change under the couch cushions, he'll use it to release another CD, another 7", or another cassette.
This grassroots populist approach wouldn't be remarkable if Anderson weren't such a gifted songwriter, with a knack for melody and the wherewithal to sing and play his heart and guts out. Boyracer's songs are ablaze with not just energy, but also feeling. Inside of the punk demeanor there's anger and bitterness, and also tears and regrets and love, and so many other feelings that give their songs a deeper impact than your average ramshackle indie band.
Boyracer formed in Leeds, UK, in 1992, and Anderson has kept Boyracer rolling along in some form ever since, even after he moved to the US. Currently, the core of Boyracer is Anderson and his wife Jen Turrell, an excellent songwriter in her own right. They live in Flagstaff, Arizona, they work on a ranch (judging by the CD booklet photos), and with a few friends, they've made an album of songs that are as dynamite, and affecting, as anything Boyracer's done in the past.
A Punch Up the Bracket opens with Turrell's sing-song threat "Money grubbing / What a racket / I'll punch you up the bracket". And then the electric guitar rings out (with echo), the drums pick up the pace, and Anderson sings a typically rough yet passionate song while squeals of guitar noise and harmonized ba-ba-bas populate the background. Once again, it's on...
Boyracer roll through 21 songs in 45 or so minutes, sounding as fierce and sensitive as ever. Nearly every song comes off like a barb thrown at someone who's stepped on their toes. A past album included a nasty answering machine message from a record-pressing rep who the band considered a sexist jerk, with the liner notes telling you who he is and not to do business with him. That spirit runs through their lyrics here, which are often a prodding or finger-pointing at the arrogant, the greedy, the selfish, and the phony. Yet the songs are generally not simple daggers or blind insults so much as genuine attempts at understanding why people act as they do, at making someone (that ubiquitous "you") understand what they've done or what their actions have caused. And the way Anderson sings, the songs are almost always tinged with a sense of loss and regret, as bittersweet as they are angry.
A Punch Up the Bracket sounds like a 'typical' Boyracer album in all the right ways, yet it's also fresh and forward-looking, with the group never settling into one expected sound. The tone of the album often plays up the 'pop' side of the band, accentuating the melodies -- not easy throwaway hooks, but melodies. Their voices are clear and bright, the still-lovably-raucous guitars work to complement them instead of covering them up, and there's an overall light, airy feeling, helped along by synthesizers and acoustic guitars. That lightness meshes well with the music's propulsion and vigor.
This blend of the rough and the tender accentuates what's so special about Boyracer, the way they can take a sweet pop melody and make it explosive and rebellious. And the way they use words, and songs, tersely, cutting right to the point. A Punch Up… ends with a gorgeous slow number that expands before our ears. It sounds like a love song but isn't. It's melancholy yet incisive, and represents everything I love about Boyracer. Oh, but earlier, about halfway through the album, there's a spunky cover of an obscure punk song (The Petticoats' "Normal") that represents everything else that I love about Boyracer: fierce individualism, verve, an absolute love for song as a means of expression, resistance, and entertainment. A Punch Up the Bracket encompasses all of these qualities. It's Boyracer at their best, but when aren't they?