On B Boys’ 2017 debut Dada, the Brooklyn trio attempted to engender the titular art style with snarlingly sunny post-punk tracks, mish-mashing grooves with chanting vocals and blisteringly uptempo drums. They sang of millennial ennui and captured contemporary angst with perhaps too much gloss, belying the dadaist intention in the process.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I might suggest that maybe B Boys have always been more aligned with the stylings of abstract expressionism instead. That’s at least what comes through on their new record, the crunchier, messier, goofier Dudu. On the album’s 15 tracks, the band throw their strengths and weaknesses at the wall and see what sticks, oscillating between full-blown Jackson Pollock style chaos and the more carefully calibrated, geometric works of Mark Rothko. Sometimes it’s revelatory; sometimes it’ll leave you scratching your head.
Through it all, B Boys splatter the canvas with their exploration of modern alienation, mixing their palette with explosive instrumentation, cacophonous vocals and whiplashing sound effects. All three members—Andrew Kerr on drums and vocals, Brendon Avalos on bass and vocals, and Britton Walker on guitar—are clearly very talented. Kerr’s drumming is a highlight throughout the album, deftly moving between time signatures at the drop of a hat, while Avalos and Walker each have a remarkable knack at writing catchy riffs. The songs don’t always amount to more than the sum of their parts, as is the case on “I Want” or the skit-like “No”; when it all coheres, though, B Boys craft rowdy political grooves that—and I mean this in the best possible way—would sound right at home on a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack.
One such example is the gig economy-indicting “Automation.” The track starts off with the instruments in isolation—Avalos’ subterranean bass pirouetting in between bursts of Walker’s heavily strummed guitar work, Kerr’s game drums restlessly agitating in the negative spaces—before folding in on one another. Avalos’ monotone scream shouts, meanwhile, capture the particular hell of losing your sense of self amid late-capitalist labor conditions: “What is this? / Constructed walls are not for me / Gotta reprogram what I see / Punch the clock and turn the key.” Amping up the reverb and nearly doubling the track’s tempo, the individual instrumentation suddenly becomes near-indistinguishable, elevating the track from spotlight-trading features to full band studio lighting.
That cohesion is courtesy of producer Gabe Wax (Crumb, Soccer Mommy, Beirut), whose work with mixer Andy Chugg often helps B Boys operate with a hivemind-like quality. It’s especially noticeable on Dudu’s opening run, “Cognitive Dissonance”, “Pressure Inside” and “Closer,” which lay down the album’s political theses in equal measure with its rollicking polyrhythms. They’re not the best tracks on the album necessarily, but they might be its most outright fun, chock full of jubilant fits of estranged behaviors that recall clear inspirations like the Talking Heads or Wire.
The album’s middle run of songs don’t fare as well. As its title suggests, “Another Anthem” borders on derivative, rehashing lyrical and sonic themes without the necessary energy to make it feel fresh. The same can be said of “I Want” and “On Repeat,” both of which feel like less-inspired takes on songs we’ve already heard on Dudu.
Thankfully, the record picks up again as its runtime winds down. “Can’t Stand It” is over-caffeinated and jittery, a streetside freakout that’s on the precipice of having a full-blown meltdown; “Start counting back from three / Just get away from me” Avalos snarls over tightly wound drums, finding a kindred spirit in Kerr’s devil-on-the-shoulder backing vocals. “AsleepAwake” is a paranoid hangover embodied, bleary-eyed and miserable with a languid guitar riff and the album’s longest runtime at just barely over 4 minutes long. Penultimate track “Taste For Trash” might be the best song on the album, a blistering ripper that finds all three B Boys screaming the title in between fits of posthuman lyrical catharsis—“I’ve got no taste for trash / It kills everything / It’s inside me”—and particularly inspired percussion aided by a sublimely cacophonous drum pad sample.
“Taste for Trash” sounds unlike anything else on Dudu. That helps it stand out, certainly, but it also exposes B Boys’ tendency toward the same song structure: ready-to-explode drums behind high-strung bass and guitar riffs foregrounded by Avalos and Kerr’s traded chants. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the songs are as precise and catchy as they are on Dudu, but it also feels like it could use a touch more variety. Like visiting an art museum with room after room of similarly great paintings, the effect starts to wear off as you keep moving through it. Maybe B Boys just need to blow their sound up and reassemble it, excising certain parts but finding new depth in a palette already at their disposal. I’m sure the abstract expressionists could relate.