'Untenable' Review: Bad Moves' dark yet uplifting power-pop opus is a remedy for our anxiety-ridden lives
Their second full-length studio offering shows how the band deals with the anxieties of living and times of constant crisis via 12 powerful power-pop tracks
It has definitely been a hot-topic year. With the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd's death eating away at our sanity, we can bank upon bands like Washington DC’s Bad Moves to offer us a much-needed dose of power pop to reinvigorate ourselves. Their second full-length studio offering ‘Untenable’, which releases on Friday, June 26 through Don Giovanni Records, shows how the band deals with the anxieties of living and times of constant crisis via 12 powerful and melodic pop-punk tracks that deal with both personal and political themes. Formed in 2015, the power-punk quartet comprises Emma Cleveland (bass), David Combs (guitar), Katie Park (guitar), and Daoud Tyler-Ameen (drums), with each talented musician lending their voices to the twelve raucous songs on the new album.
‘Local Radio’ has the band channeling classic punk bands like the Ramones to give us their first heady track on the plight of the masses. The lyrics serve as insightful social commentary, detailing the effort and frustration that comes with the ups and downs of making an honest buck. "And they said, 'Who bites the hand when the hand feeds you?' / They’re passing out scraps, you can hardly believe / You’d be picking up tabs for some nouveau riche / Who’d be making in an hour what you make in a week" goes the song and it takes less than a minute to relate to their earnest angst. The band also touches upon the fleeting silver linings we all hope for with lyrics that read, "I dreamed of sleeping aids and counted days as they descended / I’d grit and smile and bear the weight of it" although the pitiful payoff hardly seems worth the price of playing the corporate game at all - "I took the job and what I got was just some paid-off credit / And interviewed on local radio."
With ‘Night Terrors’, the band openly deals with the anxieties and uncertainties of life in our times. A recurring theme throughout the album, Bad Moves gives us a bouncy, fun track that does much more to relieve the anxiety than instill it. "You wanna find your salvation in reason? / And eulogize on the absence of meaning? / Reason hasn't ruled here in a long time / You’d never know if you’ve been comfortably sleeping."
With ‘Party With The Kids Who Wanna Party With You’, Bad Moves brings back the classic punk vibes and gives us this rollicking, fun song that urges us to find our kindred flock and do the Dougie with them. “At the song’s center is the question of how to live viably as an artist while knowing that working people will inevitably continue to be ground down,” the band said in a statement. “Against that dreary backdrop, the phrase ‘party with the kids who wanna party with you’ becomes a kind of mantra for clinging to the moments of human connection that still exist — whether that’s at a real live rock show or on a Google Hangouts call with friends during a global pandemic.”
‘Cape Henlopen’ is a bittersweet slice of punk-pop that starts-off like a more mellow, ‘Don’t Drag Me Down’ by Social Distortion. With nostalgia-tinged bass and rhythm guitars, the band channels a saccharine Smashing Pumpkins creating this destined radio-hit. ‘Toward Crescent Park' is easily the sweetest, feel-good song on this album. It's a song that would be ideally juxtaposed to animated media, much like the visual treatment the band received for their spot on Cartoon Network’s ‘Craig Of The Creek.’
With ‘Working For Free’ the band revisits themes of underpaid and undervalued work that resonates the world over. Oozing with well-founded angst and an unmistakable punk rock attitude, the band collectively channels their frustration with the current climate into this banger. Lines like, "Do ya want me working for free / You feel entitled to determine my pay, huh? / You want a rock-bottom rate, ‘cause you’re there to appraise / The value of emotional labor?" are very likely thoughts we’ve all felt while slaving away at those draining and thankless jobs. 'Muster' is a slower melancholy slice of pop-punk that seemingly deals with the anxieties of living up to a rock-star image. An anecdotal tale about a publicity shoot, the song betrays a sense of unease, as one has to portray the ‘celebrity,’ an identity that is often far removed from the real individual. "One darkroom course for my self-worth / What’s straight-up worse? No reaction / One played-out hand, I can’t / I can see myself in the reflection."
We then enter the moody environment of 'Fog Is a Funny Thing'. Somber strings swell up to weave a heady atmosphere before the band explodes into life, channeling the energy of a roaring, punk-rock behemoth. Lyrics like "When the fog coalesces around a memory of a friend lost in it / Indistinct, a warning, it might swallow you up whole, that’s when I / Look out at the world filtered in brushstrokes, vague, impressionistic / And let it all roll in like fog" give a sense of dealing with a painful memory by allowing it to disappear in the ‘mental-fog’ of one's fevered mind.
"'Same Bad Friends' started as an electronic demo with synths and loops, which we reverse-engineered for guitars and live drums. But more importantly, I find this kind of dabbling to be worth it even when I don’t make anything worth keeping. The simple magic of playing a melody, then adding another on top while the first one loops, briefly makes this whole mess feel just a little less lonely,’" says drummer Daoud Tyler-Ameen, whose quarantine-inspired experiments with a midi-controller and Ableton Live gave birth to this song.
These experiments translate into a catchy, breezy track that seemingly talks about the people in our lives that don’t add any real value to us. Lines like "Frigid fingers fumble in / Airtight pockets, worn from wondering / You had time to turn out precious / Now you have less, it seems you’re just reckless" are accompanied by a beautiful, sparkling guitar solo that lightens the heavy mood of the song. 'Settle Into It' is a slower, punk-pop ballad with a pure guitar tone that sounds raw and vulnerable. This song is a poetic meditation about stoicly settling into the torrents of life. "I've been seeking hope in the water / (When the rain comes pissing down) / It don’t stress me out / I settle into it."
A bouncy, driving bassline and clean, glistening guitars make up the soundscapes and feel-good vibes of ‘Tides’. The song talks about yearning and being apart from one's love, due to the exhilarating touring life the band has now embraced. In the face of the pandemic and drastic changes in the way we live, Bad Moves have created a sublimely uplifting track that will definitely be queuing up on playlists as soon as the album is out. David recounts how this next song on the album, ‘End Of Time’ was realized. "One morning in early 2019, I woke up and remembered the distinct shape of an entire song, structurally and melodically, from start to finish. Lyrically, though, I could only recall the line that was repeated the most: 'We’re still having a good time.' It says something about our band’s songwriting ethos — and maybe my own neuroses — that as I explored translating this dream-song into what would become our 'End of Time, the word that jumped out to me was 'still.'"
With ‘End Of Time’ the band is at their musical peak, creating a song with an unmistakable Beatles vibe that is both a rarity and treat in today’s music scene. Weaving music and words that flirt with irreverent, blasé, and melancholic themes, Bad Moves have unwittingly created a modern hedonist anthem perfect for our times. "The 'still' in 'We’re still having a good time' implies that yes, we’re having a good time, but in defiance of an expectation. The expectation, I guess, is that we shouldn’t be. So, rather than writing the rest of the song focusing on having a good time, I focused on why we might not be," adds David.
All said and done, ‘Untenable,’ is just what we need to wash out the sour taste this year has left us with. Bad Moves make the best of a bad situation by giving us these great slices of punk-pop to help remedy the malaise we currently find ourselves stricken with. For longtime fans of the band, they can rest assured that despite the anxieties and troubles the band might be dealing with, their infectious positivity and energy still rings through.