Have you ever lost track of an old friend and not see them for years? Then all of a sudden, you run into them again and you can hardly believe your eyes. The person has a new haircut, a new style and believe it or not, looks even younger and healthier than when you saw them oh so many years ago. Listening to The Boom Boom Box’s debut LP induces this feeling in the most satisfying way imaginable.
The reason they feel like old friends is because two of the key ingredients to this new group are guitarist Mike Rudnicki and vocalist Andrew Huffstetler of Texas underground legends Baboon. For those unfamiliar, they were a fantastic Dallas-area band that came about in the 90s who were friends of and toured with the Toadies. Over time they evolved from shouty noise rock to one of the most amazingly catchy rock bands too few people had heard of. If it’s not clear from the above description, checking out the entire Baboon catalog is highly recommended.
Just as the notoriety they so rightly deserved seemed to be within their grasp in the first half of last decade, they seemingly vanished. Where they went and why is unbeknownst to this journalist, but what matters is that some part of them carries on in magnificent form, with more fiery conviction than most bands half their age can muster. The Boom Boom Box is a swirling vortex of controlled chaos—boisterous and energetic yet with pinpoint precision and craftsmanship. Think of the noise and feedback-drenched sounds of the likes of My Bloody Valentine and A Place To Bury Strangers with pop sensibilities delivered via punk rock attitude and you’d get a pretty good idea of their modus operandi.
The album bursts to life with “White Chocolate,” a propulsive tale of contrasts as the listener is asked, “can you feel it tonight,” as if to rev up the audience and prepare them for the sonic assault ahead of them. It’s the perfect way to introduce the world at large to their sound and energy. From there “City Bus” keeps up the tempo and sprinkles in keyboard stabs as the chorus begs for live performance with a call and response of the words “city bus!” Refusing to let an ounce of energy go to waste, “Wooden Sword” continues the adventure in the catchiest track on the entire album. This song could sit comfortably on any Baboon album with its almost euphoric proclamations that still manage to inspire fist pumping defiance. It’s already one of the best songs to grace these ears in our still young year of 2012. Here’s a challenge: compare it to some of the fodder that gets high profile attention on sites like Pitchfork. I guarantee it smokes all of them with clever lyrics, great instrumentation and sheer likability.
“The Uniform” plays with dynamics more than anything up until this point as a thudding bassline propels the first part of the song until swelling into fuzzed-out rock bliss. It’s also the first time Huffstetler’s voice is free of vocal effects; the power and emotion of his voice at full force. “Shattered” serves up six minutes of distorted garage rock that blast the listener before boiling under the surface with subdued tension—only to spring back to dizzying heights of cathartic release. “Hit The Deck” doesn’t stray very far from the formula that keeps the previous tracks interesting while “Living In Spain” has a chorus that sounds fun and fresh, yet retro at the same time. Huffstetler’s legendary trombone, not seen much since “Bring Me The Head of Jack Skinner” pops up for a few fun blasts near the end to accompany a simple guitar line that sees the track to completion. For old school Baboon fans it will be a pleasant surprise and welcome treat.
The wall of sound lets up for “Holiday” as a more stripped down guitar part and subtle keyboard lead the most straight-ahead rock song of the bunch. It’s a much needed breather from the intensity of this affair and another potential single. Probably sensing the listener’s need for a continued wind-down after blowing your hair back for most of the album, “Hands” relies on a plaintive drum beat and atmospheric, spacey guitar noodling, proving they can slow things down and keep it just as captivating. The Boom Boom Box leave us just they met us, with “White Chocolate,” only this time it’s a reprise of the first track that’s slower and filled with reverb, as if it is their voices echoing in the distance as they leave the listener, ears still ringing, to process what just took place.
An intense yet satisfying ride doesn’t begin to sum up this album. It’s a nearly relentless audio challenge to other bands, daring other musicians that have been around as long to come up with something with a fraction of the brash, timeless yet modern exuberance on display here. For Baboon fans this is the most splendidly madcap they’ve sounded since Secret Robot Control. For everyone else, it’s simply one of the best debut albums from a band you’ll hear this year.
By Jarad Matula