Almost immediately after pressing play, just moments after the noise started, I started reminiscing about a guilty pleasure of mine from a while ago. I am a little embarrassed, but I’ll share anyway. Once upon a time, the radio played lots of songs by this musician born in Indiana (Indiana is a state, a perfectly fine state). At first, he went by the name John Bobcat, Johnny Booger, or something like that. He did one of those self-referential songs where, by mentioning both the name of the genre and his home country, automatically got a lot of attention. The song, “R.O.C.K in the USA”, was actually a pretty good song, even as it both pandered and appealed to teeny boppers everywhere (two points against it for my then-snobbery). It was good, no discussion required! Now, imagine that song, at a faster pace, done in the garage, but with a sneer. Now, you’ve got half of the sound of Bad Sports, a Denton Texas based band that is, well, a band. Are they awesome? On their latest album Bras, sometimes, definitely, but sometimes not.
As is often the case, I oversimplified their sound. The band is basically a garage rock that, if they added a little blues and dropped the sneer, would sound a little like excellent bar rock. Isn’t bar rock, just garage rock with more smoke and a person hired to pour the booze? But I digress. Bad Sports’ sound seems a little like two bands for the price of one. On the one hand, they’re a fast-paced high-energy garage rock band. On the other hand, they’re a mid-to-slow paced version of your semi-musical uncle doing his punk imitation of Bob Seger. Can you tell which version I prefer? Honestly, though, I’ve seen reviews that completely approve of the slower version, so don’t give my opinion too much credit … except I think I’m right.
There are other influences, some that I can identify, some that I can’t. I hear a little bit of Television’s Marquee Moon, but with less poetry. Maybe a little like X after they first slowed their songs down. In short, it’s a real attempt at art and energy, but without working too hard at sounding polished or shiny. The closest overlap I heard comes in “Race to the Bottom” which reminds me a lot of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” … or at least how I first remember that song sounding. In attitude, the high energy bits are like original Stooges-era Iggy Pop, but more like Iggy’s slightly more contemplative younger brother.
Comparisons aside, it’s just a simple fast-paced guitar chord riff band … when it works. When the guitars slow down, boredom increases. I’m convinced that a fast pace makes almost anything sound fun! The problem comes when the guitar starts to arpeggiate*, even if the arpeggio is short. At that point, the band sounds like they’re trying to hard to be soulful or meaningful. Non-arpeggiated runs works just fine, however, in all songs, fast or slow.
So let’s keep score using a non-random sample of tracks
- “Get You”, a guitar/drum thumper that accelerates you to law-threatening speed
- “Washed Up”, the fast-paced Mellencamp imitation that does all the right things, none of the wrong
- “Eddie Bender”, like an Americanized version of early, fast Wire songs, with added vocal effects
- “Let Me In”, the actual single from the album that isn’t that slow/boring, but isn’t all that great either.
- “Back in Time”, a sloppy, lazy version of Parquet Courts sound
- “Free Spirit” featuring the lyrics ‘Why do I try to be such a nice guy. This is what I get for letting you fly’
If you remember nothing else when listening to Bad Sports: arpeggios bad, speed good.
* for you less technical folks (or less pretentious folks), a guitar is ‘arpeggiating’ when it plays ‘arpeggios’ (circular definition warning) which is basically playing a chord one note at a time rather than with a single strum (circular warning cancelled).