'Wearing Out The Refrain' Record Release Show!

Bad Moves

Saturday, September 28
Doors: 7:30pm | Show: 8pm


When people sing together, is it necessarily cathartic? Is catharsis necessarily rejuvenating? And what if the aftermath of catharsis turns out to be the same old frustration? With their third LP, Washington, D.C.’s Bad Moves have expanded their founding artistic identity — a candy-coated guitar-pop shell surrounding a bitter lyrical core — by refracting their ideas through a new set of musical forms that weaponize repetition. On the new Wearing Out the Refrain, recorded once again with producer Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Algernon Cadwallader), Bad Moves propose that the flip side of the delirious harmony of the basement show singalong is the volatile, accusatory antiphony of a community divided by strain, shouting the same desperate hook back and forth at one another.

There is a pervasive perception that in power pop, hooks often come at the expense of lyrical sophistication, even intelligibility — that long vowels and crisp consonants are merely the empty frame on which to hang those euphoric bridges and serotonin-rush outros. But perhaps not since Chumbawamba has a group so effectively combined pop architecture with focused and detailed narratives (“cleaning literal shit from a dive bar toilet,” the band recounts in “New Year’s Reprieve”) of class rage and communal despair. Their collective songwriting allows for a conceptual unity, in which an album about feeling caught in repetitive cycles expresses that theme not just lyrically — as in the recurring imagery of swirling riptides and drain-circling undertows — but sonically, intentionally beating a riff into the ground to make a point. The structure of the New Pornographers-esque “Let The Rats Inherit the Earth” is Sisyphean fatalism defined, stopping and starting over every time the music is about to reach a peak.

Bad Moves’ tag-team vocals, which forgo centering any one member, also let the traditionally confessional “I” become the “we” of a community, or a generation. Witness the ambitious climate change metaphor of “Eviction Party,” which understands the union of sugary pop and genuine angst embodied by 1960s girl-group songcraft, and uses it to expand a personal story to planetary scale. “It’s my eviction, I’ll cry if I want to,” the group shouts at the climax, channeling the dawning millennial midlife crisis. The personal may be political, but what if both feel weighed down and trapped in circular, inescapable ruts?

To say “D.C. punk” invokes the rigorous austerity of the Dischord Records scene, a world that might seem visually and musically distant from Bad Moves’ exuberance. But in a city necessarily dominated by politics, art and activism have long been intertwined forces, uniting voices in spirit and action as well as sound. The band’s deep roots in D.C.’s DIY venues and organizations are in natural dialogue with the politics of songs like “Hallelujah” and “Undertow,” which project the consequences of institutional attacks on queer identity.

As the supposed opposition of guitar-based rock and empty-calorie pop passes its fifth decade of discourse, Bad Moves — who have been as vocal about their love of K-pop as of Ted Leo — expose the emptiness of that binary. Song form is as flexible and expressive a vehicle for anger as for euphoria, for apathy as for commitment, for the individual as for the cooperative. Maintaining the capacity for musical joy is one more way to stand up for your convictions, especially when the world around you seems stuck on the same soul-numbing note. – Franz Nicolay

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