Consider this dichotomy: punk music is about complex ideas over seemingly simple music, while pop music is about the simplest ideas over music of radically expansive complexity. Phil Spector never wrote protest songs and one of this year’s biggest hits, “The Middle” takes nine people to articulate the feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Of course, Spector also cut a somewhat forgotten record with the Ramones, and another of this year’s hit songs, “This is America,” thinks it has a lot of ideas too. But if we stick with that dichotomy, we have a tradition of songs like Gang of Four’s “We Live As We Dream, Alone” that do things like distilling Marxian alienation theory over snappy drums, cool synths and rhythmic chanting. In this tradition, also, is the work of the Brooklyn band BODEGA, who deliver a half-hour debut album called Endless Scroll that is stuffed with ideas about the world, the politics of content consumption and gentrification and an attempt to answer what it means to be an artist today.
This is not dueling frontpeople Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio’s first attempt to postulate these ideas; in 2015, they led a band called Bodega Bay that released an hour-long statement called OUR BRAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE. A kind of punk take on the whole Broken Social Scene-concept (all-together-now chanting, occasional horns), it dissolved in frustrated mist, Hozie apparently tired of his band’s “glam rock tendencies.” Now they’re back and mean business: the name and lineup are tighter, were crowned “art punk royalty” by the remaining strands of blog rock and got signed to the same PR agency as Protomartyr and Parquet Courts. Parquet Courts’s Austin Brown even came on to produce Endless Scroll, lowering the mikes to get rid of that erstwhile “glam” energy and wrapping it up, instead, to sound like his own band’s dry brand of tone that recalls seminal moments on the first three Wire records. It’s even being released on Parquet Courts’s old label, What’s Your Rupture?. New York’s five remaining record store clerks: look out.
But these connections and references do BODEGA a disservice. Nobody cares what the people in bands like Parquet Courts have to say about the world, this was why their latest “political” record was primarily of interest to the devout readers of Rolling Stone. (Did it take recording a record with Danger Mouse for the Savage brothers to realize gentrification exists? Why?) And since music became a pure numbers game, nobody cares who your publicist or your label is either. Buying swathes of banner ads or bad blog coverage doesn’t get streams. Unwisely surrounding the record with so many uncool things, Endless Scroll runs the risk of sounding uncool before you even turn it on. But Endless Scroll rewards the adventurous listener.
It reveals itself as a Pollack splatter of modern life. Voices buzz in and out of songs, trapped by their cellphones or by their self-aware clichés, desperate, like Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man, to find a code to live by. On “Name Escape,” Hozie describes a litany of local scenesters he is proud to not be associated with, his voice reaching a particularly Andrew Savage-timbre when he talk-sings “No I have not, my son/now I don’t want to know.” Elsewhere, he chastises himself for sounding too unoriginal as a lover, complains about expensive drinks and pop radio and reflects on spending too much time in front of computer screens, one of which blankly stares out of the album cover.
Sure, the record cannot escape the fact that Hozie is the nice guy at the party telling you that the Weeknd used to be cool and is proud of the fact that he either read or didn’t read Ulysses. Belfiglio at any rate comes off as the cooler and more clear-headed of the two, such as on her star turn on “Gyrate,” a song about masturbating all the time. In the song’s minute and a half, she goes from copping Liz Phair (“…since I was six years old”) to twisting the erotic into the urgent and then the urgent into an exploding series of ahhhhs that briefly rivals Kanye’s infamous death orgasm.
The record works better like this, a collection of scattered things, like pop culture objects that become memes before disappearing in the dust. The short song lengths also make the songs feel like tweets, the perusal of which the record’s title morbidly nods at. When the record tries to sound serious and takes on conventional topics, its idiosyncratic voice falters: a song packed at the record’s end about a dying friend and one, earlier, about some breakup both feel like outtakes from that record by the Men that tried to sound like Neil Young. More interesting than these three-minute dirges of Hozie going on about his life are the short minute musings about Andy Warhol or dealing with boring cinephiles. These moments feel like lived-in bullshit sessions in somebody else’s apartment, real with the fleeting sensation of their own self-contained importance.
Endless Scroll is as much a quintessential Bushwick record as HBO’s “High Maintenance” is a quintessential Bushwick TV show, but here’s hoping that more people actually give this a spin. Its pent-up frustrations about a life lived between glowing screens, where content threateningly forms above content you haven’t even consumed yet, feels sincere about trying to use art to create something else, something that can’t be escaped with a look downward at a blinking light.