Tuesday, October 21, 2014 by Hunter Johns
Will music about teenage boredom ever become irrelevant? In the wrong hands, sure it would. Had I been alive in the 90s, I would probably have become bored with the enormous catalog of songs dealing with boredom and the people feeling it. In truth, I don’t think the subject matter was in itself boring; actually I, like a lot of people my age, find boredom to be pretty relatable. It’s the insincerity of this music aimed at presumably suburban teenagers that makes my eyes glaze over. Did Billy Joe Armstrong actually “sit around and watch the tube” like he claimed to do in “Longview”? Did he ever “twiddle his thumbs for an hour or two”? Doubtful; he lived the lifestyle of a celebrity, and probably never once twiddled his thumbs after the release of “Dookie.”
So then why would I like a band like the Bots? After all, their subject matter is similar to the 90s punk I’ve grown tired of. Their new record Pink Palms might have an original, modern sound, but kernels of Green Day et al. can be heard now and again. How can I believe The Bots to be sincere when I think the opposite about a like-minded movement? It’s because I, like my millennial predecessors, believe that these people really mean it when they say, “I’m bored, and I bet you are too.” I may be wrong, but that’s not really the point.
The Bots are guitarist/vocalist Mikaiah and drummer Anaiah Lei, brothers aged 20 and 17, respectively. Since they started playing together at 15 and 12, they’ve gone on to get increasing attention, even landing a spot on the Vans Warped Tour and the Afropunk Festival with the Bad Brains. (See their recent appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Top.) Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz, has even mentioned the band as a favorite of his, and lent his touch to their latest effort. Their new album Pink Palms is The Bots’ fifth release, and their second since signing with FADER.
Pink Palms starts with “Ubiquitous”; a light synth line quickly gives way to the garage-rock noise that defines their sound. The track is one of the heavier on the record, and sounds most like some of their earlier work on songs like “I Like Your Style” from 2012’s EP Sincerely Sorry. The track that follows “Ubiquitous” is more telling of the record’s tone; “Blinded”, track number two, alternates between bluesy guitar riffs, moody verses, and a nasty, soaring chorus, all of which still fit into one overriding statement. The Lei brothers use the same formula for the angrier “Won”, then again on the surf-punk “All I Really Want,” though each song stands out on its own. While I was listening to “Pink Palms,” I often worried that The Bots would get lost in all the energy they play with, or lose me for lack of energy; they stay out of either territory, possibly due to the hand of Albarn, a man well versed in harnessed musical energy. He guides the band’s energy through the canyons they might have fallen in, and warns them against flying too high.
If I were to recommend one track from Pink Palms, it would be “All of Them (Wide Awake).” On this track, the band shows the full potential of what they can be (and already are). The song features far less garage band thrash than most other songs on the album, but the energy is still there. Here, The Bots sound less like a band from the garage and more like one from, I don’t know, maybe a few hundred feet down the driveway. What I mean to say is that The Bots are maturing. They’ve made a record that stands on its own two feet, one that sounds as good through headphones as it does live at one of their shows. This particular song is emblematic of that maturity, as well as the record as a whole.
Perhaps The Bots won’t stay bored forever. Maybe there will come a day when I’m no longer moved by their odes to inactivity and idleness. But for now, I believe that when The Bots tell me they twiddle their thumbs, they really twiddle their thumbs.
Hunter Johns is a junior covering music for The Lightning Rod. His album reviews are published weekly on Tuesdays.