Bad Sports, Dodging the Obvious … or Being Obvious

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.

Bras by Bad Sports

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

Fast/loud/good:

  • “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

Slow/boring:

  • “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).

12 thoughts on “Bad Sports, Dodging the Obvious … or Being Obvious

  1. So should I like this? The cover grabs my attention, maybe not the attention they want. I get a feeling of Blink-182, but trying to appeal to the Pitchfork crowd.

    Hell, I’ll just listen to it and see what happens.

  2. I can remember R.O.C.K. in the USA, but I had no idea the artist was from the fine State of Indiana. Did you know that Indianopolis is the largest Indian city outside the Indian subcontinent and that their annual Tandoorifest is the largest outside of Mumbai?

    On a side note, too bad “A Nice Pair” was taken as an album title.

  3. I’m certainly struggling with “Let Me In” (but not as much as I would be struggling with a bad sports bra, as WaywardPioneer pointed out.) I think I’ll stick to your advice of listening to the “speed good” songs.

Am I wrong?