|BUILDING BETTER BOMBS
Freak Out Squares
CD | INIT-42
out of print
"The opening two-bar countoff to Building Better Bombs' Freak Out Squares is a bit like catching sight of an oncoming car out of the corner of your eye as you pass through an intersection: There's enough time to see it coming, but not enough time to do anything about it. Thirty seconds after that compressed "1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4," opening track "This Is a Gang" is over, and before you can even catch your breath, "No Handouts" spills forward on single stroke snare rolls and spleen. And it's like this every time I listen to it. Music this heavy, dense, frenetic and head-snappingly confusing feels like a monolith, but if you look closely, Stef Alexander (vocals/guitar), Isaac Gale(vocals/guitar), Ryan Olson (bass) and Drew Christopherson (drums) have left some chinks in their shiny black surface for you to gain a purchase on.Tempest-tossed on the rolling seas of "No Handouts," you're in danger of drowning in an impersonal ocean of squalling guitars when, suddenly, a fizzle of static or cord noise at the 37-second mark hints that there are people behind all this. The oddly bumping electro outro to the song is another clue, one that says this is a band of diverse influences, no matter how shouty and explosive they may seem at first glance. Christopherson and Olson are not only the rhythm section for twisted, art-damaged hip-hoppers Mel Gibson & The Pants, but also for dark trip-hoppers Digitata, and you probably know Alexander better by his nom de rap, P.O.S. Throw all that in a blender along with Gale and Alexander's long-standing love for things metal and hardcore and you've got a visceral cocktail that'd be sure to explode if poured into a bottle and lit with a rag and match. The trick for the average listener is going to be decoding all the noise and bluster and getting past the abrasive sonics. Does it sometimes just sound like a shit ton of screaming? Yeah, it does, but at its heart, this is not a violent or angry record. It's full of passion and release, and it's about the funkiest hard rock album you're going to find. Just check out the outro of "Cold, Not Frozen," where the telltale pulse of a cellphone through an amp (a sound any musician will be familiar with from rehearsals) is bent into a beat. Just as you get its funky brilliance, it's gone, and that's their big trick here. Bombs demands active listening in a genre that's going to make a large part of the population turn away. It's not for everyone, but if you can find the tiny keyholes to let you in, it's rewarding in the same way as whiskey, blue cheese or any acquired taste. By the way, if you're already into hardcore music, just go buy this-it's great."- Steve McPherson
Init Records is one of the most underappreciated record labels releasing music today. Documenting some of the Midwest's most important punk bands, from The Spirit of Versailles to The Vidablue, the label is consistently on point. I know Steven Init through the great invention of Internet message boards, and the guy is an absolute stand up person. So it still comes as a surprise to me as to why this label doesn't get the respect it deserves. With their latest release, Building Better Bombs' Freak Out Squares, the label continues to quietly put out quality releases.
Freak Out Squares is the Minneapolis-based band's debut album, following a two year hiatus and 7" release after the band returned in 2005. Building Better Bombs formerly played as a two-piece, but reemerged later with four members, three of which play in hip-hop groups, including rapper P.0.S. The band hasn't fully ditched their hip-hop influences, but rather has turned their attention to hardcore, and their different influences have led to a very interesting and rather catchy result.
The album opens up with "This Is A Gang," a blistering thirty second song that opens with a fast four count and ends in straight screamed chaos. The band continues to develop their songs, as they reach their stride with "No Hospitals," a song that sees the band ditching their full out screams and quick guitars and drums for melody and choruses. Mixing sassy screamed vocals with a melodic chorus, the band sings: "We lit this match to prove there's air to breath / It's easy to forget when suffocation seems so constant / We lit this fuse to prove we're tired out of holding our breath."
The rest of the album features much of the same, as Building Better Bombs seamlessly mixes all out yelps and screams with catchy hooks and choruses. The Blood Brothers first came to mind, if The Blood Brothers were faster, harder, catchier, less annoying, and well, not The Blood Brothers.
Besides being one of the catchiest hardcore (or screamo, if you approve of such a word) bands I have ever heard, the band is instrumentally on point as well. Building Better Bombs is instrumentally as catchy as their vocals, matching the choruses with an indie flare while still being able to produce caustic and maniacal music during times of chaos. Their hip-hop influences are not forgotten either, as the band uses hip-hop beats and turntable scratches during different points, although never in excess or at the wrong time.
Freak Out Squares is one of the more unknown gems of this year, as the band has created genre bending music without compromising their hardcore sound. Init Records has certainly done it again, releasing another strong record from an unlikely source. Hopefully now people will begin to catch on.(8.3/10)
Also new from Init Records is "Freak Out Squares", the debut full-length from Building Better Bombs, which taught me - yet again - that you really can't judge a book (or a CD) by its cover. Having never heard of this band before, the outer artwork of the digipack gave me the distinct impression that I would probably not enjoy this album very much. Well… oops… 'cause this is actually pretty god damn good! 13 tracks, about 28 minutes, and loads of super energetic and, well… surprisingly original material that tears through all kinds of hardcore/punk influences with an indie twist. There are some straight up old school-ish three chord hardcore runs; lightly melodic, rocked out power chords; noisier surges of lightly chaotic textures; a little ringing post-hardcore dissonance; and an absolute ton of other little bits and pieces strewn about throughout (including some totally raging basslines). Hell, there are even a few scattered little hip-hop sounding fits of glitchy beats and shit!? And the vocals, while largely dominated by lightly distorted yelling/shouting/screaming, also hit on a few shockingly catchy moments (as well as some truly effective bursts of near-singing), so… yeah, fuck it, this is some good shit right here. That's all there is to it. Hey, the artwork may not be my thing (though the inner spread of the 12-panel booklet that's covered in handwritten song titles, lyrics, and other insanity looks awesome), but what can I say? This is actually a killer record. Never saw it coming. I'm impressed. Bonus points for having a song titled "Kid Tested, Motherfuckin' Approved", too!
Definitely recommended, so pick one up if the samples intrigue you.
New Scheme, The #16:
"Freak Out Squares" is the inaugural full length from this Minneapolis band, which is the side=project for P.O.S. As the guitarist and singer in the band, you'd never guess that P.O.S' day job is one of the most rightfully hyped M.C.'s in independent hip=hop. Building Better Bombs is a frantic and all over the place take on melodic punk rock and choppy post-hardcore. Every song here goes right for it, in terms of energy, tempo and ideas. They pack a lot into every song, with super melodic guitar lines that perfectly compliment each other. The vocals are shouted and haphazard, but still well sung most of the time as well. The whole thing reminds me of a much more confrontational and involved version of Scared Of Chaka, with the frantic, bouncy rhythms of The Exploder.
"No Hospitals" is an obvious highlight early in the record. A fast, bouncy rhythm leaves just enough space for alternating vocals between the band members during the verse and guest vocals from The Soviettes' Annie Awesome in the chorus. Like the whole record, this track is never exactly "poppy", but usually melodic and always energetic. It's a difficult balance, but every song on here strikes it perfectly. "Kid Tested, Motherfuckin' Approved" is another of the standout tracks. With an even more prominent back and forth between the guitars, which balances a heavy-handed lead riff and an acrobatic rhythm part. Both of them mash the best things about the punk rock of a decade or so ago, and the more involved (but no less immediate) indie rock of today.
For the styles that "Freak Out Squares" simultaneously represents, it's a perfect and refreshing throwback and leap forward at the same time. Energetic and melodic, but never cheesy, then involved and complicated but still immediately appealing. This packs in most of the things that originally drew me to up-beat guitar music, as well as the things that kept me interested in it years later. How it happened, I have a hard time explaining. But it you're half as burned out on punk rock's recent past as I am, this isn't a bad first step on the road to recovery. On first glance, the scope of these songs is fairly limited. But on a closer examination it's hard to even find any limits on them. Where the hell has this record been the last few years?
"Remember when the Blood Brothers used to put out material that was three parts punk and hardcore and one part sass (instead of the other way around)? Well whether Minneapolis' Building Better Bombs intended to do so or not, they've brought back this formula with their debut full-length, Freak Out Squares, a very likeable combination of punk, hardcore, fuzzy noise rock and everything in between.
But using a Blood Brothers comparison probably isn't the best route to go. Half of you have already stopped reading and the other half are cautiously proceeding looking for something on which their skepticism can feed. The truth is, much of Freak Out Squares displays a hardcore lean greater than anything the Blood Brothers could ever dream up. The opening one-two punch of "This is a Gang" and "No Handouts" sound closer to a catchier Outbreak than anything off of Burn Piano Island, Burn, and the spastic "Lights Out, Knives Out (And Fuck Your Shitty Mailbombs)" could easily pass for an unreleased Some Girls track.
Yet BBB refuses to be limited to one style. "Death Ships" is a catchy post-punk number that might just be what Thunderbirds Are Now! would sound like if they crossed over onto the heavier side of the ball game. A few moments of "Kid Tested, Motherfuckin' Approved" are reminiscent of Bear vs. Shark, which is always a good thing. And a song title like "Kid Tested, Motherfuckin' Approved" spells success in my book no matter what. Throw in a few well-placed electronic samples and beats for interludes and you've got yourself a pretty entertaining record.
It doesn't matter that it may be a little difficult to nail BBB's sound into a specific genre. Whatever they do, whether it is hardcore or punk or catchy rock tunes, they do it with feedback soaked guitars, dirty bass lines and frantic screams. And most importantly, they do it well. There's a few less than memorable moments, such as the dragging parts of "A Headstart" or the Coheed and Cambria sounding clean chorus of "No Hospitals," but these shouldn't stand in the way of listeners discovering this enjoyable record.
Bottom Line: Building Better Bombs' Freak Out Squares provides an palatable mixture of the older days of the Blood Brothers with some hardcore, punk, and noise rock influences that will appeal to fans of catchy, slightly spazzy hardcore. It's not exactly record of the year, but it's pretty damn solid. Rock on."(7/10)