BODEGA Treads New Ground With Old Material on Our Brand Could Be Yr Life

The Brooklyn band’s latest effort reimagines their past with a keen eye set firmly on their future.

Music Reviews BODEGA
BODEGA Treads New Ground With Old Material on Our Brand Could Be Yr Life

There are any number of answers as to why a band might want to return to their own work. There is, of course, one entirely cynical answer: In a music landscape that demands constant churn, what better way to shorten the process than to simply reach your hand into your big old bag of tricks and make something old, new again? It’s just the kind of tactic you could imagine BODEGA cunningly ripping to shreds over the course of a two-minute post-punk avalanche, and yet here they are, re-examining 15 of their near decade-old songs on Our Brand Could Be Yr Life. But if you know anything about this Brooklyn five-piece, it’s that they fully and completely walk the wal. So, getting to the bottom of why they felt this was the right time to dive back into this massive double album becomes essential in understanding Our Brand Could Be Yr Life.

Listening to—and loving—a band like BODEGA is not a passive act. There are artists whose charm lies in their ability to recede into the background, but BODEGA have never been content to just become mood-board playlist fodder. Trying to separate what it is guitarist and vocalist Ben Hozie and vocalist Nikki Belfiglio have to say from how they say it is a near impossible task—staunchly anti-capitalist and often righteously pissed-off, BODEGA attack their subjects with pitchforks drawn. And, though it has been over eight years since most of the songs on this record were conceived, they lose none of their potency. Take the “Cultural Consumer” trilogy that comes toward the back half of Our Brand Could Be Yr Life, in which Hozie and Belfiglio take to task, among other things, the kind of young, hungry intellectuals who line their shelves with installments from the 33 ⅓ series—in an attempt to hoover the idea of things without ever actually approaching them with any genuine curiosity. Earlier, on “BODEGA Bait,” the band revisits a mission statement that would correctly predict the kind of band they become in the eight years since it was written. “What is the difference between an artist and an advertiser?” asks a disembodied voice to begin the song, effectively communicating the dilemma at the heart of BODEGA.

Of course, none of their witticisms or erudite explorations of consumer society mean much of anything if their music doesn’t effectively land. Thankfully, that has never been an issue for BODEGA—and it isn’t an issue here, either. Talky post-punk has become a bit of a punching bag in recent years, but when you can do it as well as BODEGA does on songs like “G.N.D. Deity” or “Tarkovski”—with their barrage or riffs and clever melodic structures—the joke is very much not on them. Elsewhere, BODEGA uses Our Brand Could Be Yr Life to expand the borders of their sound, tempering usual tight, headlong assault in favor of a relative ease. “Webster Hall,” a cagey little commentary on the NYC venue’s regular clientele, is as refreshingly laid-back as you will ever hear BODEGA—and it serves as a welcome detour from the constant thrum of their usual approach.

The animating principle of BODEGA has always been the question of what it means to be bought and sold within the context of modern culture. As they have moved from plucky upstarts—as they were when these songs were written, to an established entity—Hozie and Belfiglio can’t help notice the commodification of their own attempts at anti-commodification. When everything, from our time to our attention, is up for consumption, how do you remain above the fray? The fact that this record’s title mirrors that of Michael Azerad’s 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life—which delved into the independent music scene of the 1980s and early ‘90s—goes a long way in understanding BODEGA as a whole, especially when you consider that some of the band’s that Azerrad covers have very much become “brands” in the ickiest sense of the word. Whether they are looking backwards or forwards, you can rest assured that BODEGA will remain wholly themselves—but Our Brand Could Be Yr Life shows just how flexible all of that can be.

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