Artist – The Bombpops
Album / Label – Death In Venice Beach / Fat Wreck Chords
Rating – 8 / 10
All live images: Chad Kessler/MIMC
Ed. ~ Jen Razavi alluded to Death in Venice Beach being a darker album than anything they have done previously during our one-on-one interview with her in early 2019.
SoCal-based The Bombpops released their second studio album on Friday, March 13th in the middle of a pandemic, and the album couldn’t have come at a better time.
Upon first listen it seems like a relatively upbeat album, with fun, bouncy guitar, drum lines and great vocals. But once you start paying attention to the content of the songs, you realize its not nearly as cheery as it seems.
The best way I can describe the album is “Happy music for bad times,” which is exactly what I needed when I heard it. There are songs about horrible experiences, songs about being pissed off, songs about being broken, and they are all coated in this jubilant pop-punk exterior.
Let’s be honest… the world kind of sucks right now. It’s hard to put on a happy face and embrace the world, but this album shows you can be happy while also being frustrated as hell, or angry, or anything really.
The album comes out of the gates with Dearly Departed, a song that instantly makes you want to move around. It has a bouncing beat dripping in a 1960s aesthetic that, in truth, I might only be attributing it to because of the album cover and JFK’s name.
The laundry list of romances that were either taboo or ended in tragedy opens the door for a theme that extends through the whole album. There’s an air of tragedy that persists throughout. But it is not sad; rather it’s an album about dealing with tragedy.
Double Arrows Down, like many other tracks on the album, also sounds happy at first. It sounds like a by the numbers pop-punk song, but once you take a few more listens, it becomes clear that it is much darker than that. I hate adding meaning to a song I didn’t write, but it sounds like it could be about anything from feeling like a failure to drug addiction.
With lyrics like “I can write all these defiant songs, but my life is still reliant on machines, and all I do is bleed,” it feels very self-referential, and it feels like it comes from a very personal place.
I didn’t fully appreciate Zero Remorse until I watched the music video. The story is there during the song, but the video of two assassins hunting one another before working together, all in two and a half minutes, compliments the song so well that it feels necessary to watch rather than just listen.
The song is book-ended by two high points, starting with one of the best riffs on the album and ending with a haunting cello that slowly fades to silence.
I did not expect a reference to the Notre Dame cathedral fire (Paris, France) in this album, but it was a welcome surprise. The metaphor in Notre Dame works really well in a song about a broken, toxic relationship. The bass line that leads the song off adds a sinister feeling, and lyrics about plague and decay continue the narrative of toxicity. It also dips into the ideas of reincarnation and past lives, adding another layer to an already complex song.
Next up is Sad to Me, a “screw you” anthem… and it is very good at that. It’s a song about moving on and being a better person for it. It gets stuck in your head, just like most all of these songs. They are just so infectious, I always end up humming whichever was on last when I stopped listening to the album.
I think I mention how good harmonies sound in almost every review I’ve written, but there’s just something about a good harmony that I love. The lead vocalists and founders of the band (Poli van Dam and Jen Razavi) compliment one another so well, with Can’t Come Clean probably the best example of that.
Usually these harmonies are only on choruses or a bridge, but this entire song almost seems to be sung with two voices, and it works so well. I wish there was more of this, but it makes me appreciate it even more when it shows up.
It is also just a really fun song. The lyrical content is once again nowhere near as happy as the instruments would have you assume, but it’s still a jam.
Blood Pact steps away from the pop side of things and just dishes out two minutes of fast-paced punk. It has Bonnie and Clyde references, natural born killers, and American maniacs. Everything you could hope for in a song that feels like a car chase in all the best ways.
In the Doghouse is about exactly what it sounds like. It’s about turmoil in a relationship, and there’s a certain venom to it that gives it an extra kick, along with a little bit of a snarl the vocalist adds to some lines. The song is a little more varied than the rest of the album, as well.
There’s the huge punch after the line “digging in the dirt,” with some interesting vocal progressions, and the somewhat atmospheric break in the middle, before the whole song swells to a peak. It all shows the talent of the entire band at writing, as well as performing different styles, all within two and a half minutes.
13 Stories Down is full of self-disdain and it is way too catchy. That’s one of the strongest points of the whole album – all the songs get stuck in your head so easily. “I’m not an alcoholic, I just play one on the weekend,” is such a good, but ultimately melancholy lyric.
The song is about a self-sabotaging person, and their “beautiful catastrophe,” which seems to encapsulate the whole album. Everything that is happening is either beautiful, catastrophic, or both.
Radio Silence could easily be the only plain song on the album. Not bad, but not as dynamic as the other songs. But then… you hit the bridge, which is my favorite vocal section on the whole record. I know I’ve already talked about the harmonies, but they’re much more subtle here, and it just shows the contrast and the different ways they can use their voices.
House on Fire is pure delight. The intro is just the band singing around a piano, and it never fails to put a smile on my face. It feels like something that will play at the end of a documentary about the band at some point in the future.
The rest of the song features more chugging guitars and drums, and it feels like a logical place to end the album. I was somewhat surprised that there was still one song left.
But when Southbound Stranger started, I realized why they chose to close with this track. It ends the album on a similar note to how Dearly Departed began this journey. The juxtaposition of more lighthearted sounding punk rock with lyrics about loss and being haunted by the thought of someone you lost.
The final verse is sung over a simple acoustic guitar. “I bought a gun/Not sure if I know how to use one/They tell me that there’s nothing to it/Just pull the trigger, you can do it.” Then echoing “You left me in LA,” a line that starts the song before one last electric chord that fades out as you’re left with five lines that could mean a lot of things.
One of my only complaints with this album is that it’s over so quickly. I know punk songs are never very long, but with all but one song clocking in at under three minutes, they’re all in-and-out so quickly its hard to appreciate them before the next one starts.
I don’t completely dislike this, though, because it produces some fast-paced songs that I wish I could spend more time with. One of the most impressive things about this album is how they’re able to fit so much in so little space. Everything is very deliberate, and not a single second is wasted.
Since I have started reviewing live shows I always imagine what the albums I review would be like live, and I cannot wait to see The Bombpops play some of these songs once this whole pandemic blows over.
- Dearly Departed
- Double Arrows Down
- Zero Remorse
- Notre Dame
- Sad to Me
- Can’t Come Clean
- Blood Pact
- In The Doghouse
- 13 Stories Down
- Radio Silence
- House on Fire
- Southbound Stranger
The Bombpops – Zero Remorse