Festivals and touring have kept us apart for weeks, but here I am, still banging on about BODEGA. Even more so, with the delayed, but still imminent arrival of their debut album ‘Endless Scroll’ (rumoured to have been shoved back, so it can take the Rough Trade Album Of The Month slot in July, so in some ways, not a bad thing).
THE BASICS: Bodega are a New York art-rock band (their PR description), who I first came across in SXSW’s 100 Tips For 2018 (A HUNDRED! That’s really going out on a limb. Really nailing your colours to the mast there everyone).
The only song I’d heard before seeing them live was ‘How Did This Happen’, which now opens the LP – a sort of hardcore B52s, a little like if Ian Mackaye had been to an agit-pop thrift sale in New York State and then been locked in a room with nothing but a pencil and a journal and a cassette or assorted new wave and SST Records for a month.
I spent three days, wandering around Austin worrying about missing their gigs, to the point where I was an hour early for each one. At the first, at the fantastically named Beerland, they even started with ‘Happen’ (which was either a cunning way of reeling us in, or the perverse mind of a Radiohead, not wanting to be defined by The Song People Know).
What quickly became apparent though was that Bodega weren’t what I’d predicted in my head. If anything they were better than that. More colourful, more diverse, more intense even occasionally more fragile.
INTERVIEW NOTE: “When me and Nikki started the band,” says Ben Hozie, “the first day, we made a Venn diagram of everything we liked about the last band we were in and everything that was terrible about the last band, so it was actually very scientific, the process of what we were going to do.”
Which sounds ominously soulless; and probably would be in other hands, but the honing of their sound (their vision) has led them to this: a record which could have been a novel by Orwell or Huxley. It is not exactly down and out, but through the observational minutiae, you get a pretty stark eye-level view of the world (or maybe the brave new world, where we’re all buried in our computers, defined by our bookmarks)
The whole idea of being waylaid by technology recurs a lot – from the intentionally ambiguous title onwards (“I was thinking of Moses and the scrolls and the tablets,” says Hozie. “But also the endless scroll that is social media and the hell of Web 2.0”).
For a while I thought there were larger issues at play as well, but they frown (politely) at this.
“It’s like the old feminist saying, the personal is political. For example if we want to write about the American political situation, we don’t want to speak in platitudes. We can only legitimately speak about our own experiences and our own hypocrisies – and that’s kind of what Bodega’s all about. Examining our own personal lives…that’s why we talk about a lot of things that are going on in Brooklyn, but also things that are going on in our heads
“There aren’t really that many big picture ideas on the record – it’s all about concrete small observations”
For instance, there’s a great sketch of an insidious, faceless enigma in the jerky, strung-out post-punk of ‘Name Escape’ (which includes the marvellous line: “Have you heard the latest single by the So And Sos…no I have not my son, now I don’t want to know.”).
What I really like (ONE of the things I really like) about ‘Endless Scroll’ though, is how it fidgets. It never settles. Not musically or lyrically. It’s a restless record. At times it’s agitated or aggravated or aggrieved (‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’, ‘I Am Not A Cinephile’ all punchy and Wire-d and the terrific set closer ‘Truth Is Not A Punishment’), at others it’s honestly very moving (there’s a track called ‘Charlie’ which actually made me moist of eye – the second time that’s happened in a fortnight).
They flit through a range of guitar stabs and riffs, lunging on and off the tribal dancefloor beat, changing pace and purpose as they go.
Not just an enjoyable record, but a rewarding one.