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Album Review: The Bogarts – “Nothing To Call Our Own”

I initially wrote the review that follows for my “day job” at Dying Scene, but a reader beat me to this one. Rather than let 600-or-so words go completely unprinted, I figured I’d brush the dust off the old personal blog and post ‘er here.

When last we heard from Thousand Oaks, California’s The Bogarts, the youngsters had put out a solid-if-occasionally-flawed EP (2011’s self-released Ideologies – read my DS review here) that played like you’d expect to hear from an upstart band with SoCal skate-punk chops beyond their years.

A little more than a year has passed since Ideologies, and the time has served the fellas well. Their self-released debut full-length Nothing To Call Our Own finds the sound and the lyrics more focused and aggressive than ever. Okay, I’ve gotta stop focusing on how young the Bogarts are, because their sound obviously belies their age. While other early-twenty-somethings are busy refining their Cookie Monster vocals and cookie cutter screamo acts or bastardizing pop-punk into a shadow of its former self, a select few are proudly carrying the high-intensity skate punk flag forward for the new generation. The Bogarts are placing themselves at the head of that pack.

Album-opener “Bridge Burners” finds co-vocalists Alex Johnson and Nick Waite taking turns pouring their hearts out. It can be the proverbial kiss of death for younger bands (particularly those comprised of guys who can’t legally drink in the States yet) to tackle themes like isolation and betrayal and political unrest and self-medication. It’s a dangerous tightrope that leaves most sounding either painfully pedestrian and out of their league or pathetically simple and naïve. Or worse: emo.

The four-piece list Against Me!, AFI and Anti-Flag as influences, and while those are certainly valid, I can’t help but draw comparisons to Screw 32, one of the more underappreciated bands from the mid-1990s whose demise was all-too premature. Musically, there’s was a particularly dark take on the skate punk sound, and that seems to be The Bogarts wheelhouse as well. The music is aggressive and close attention is paid to melodically crafting songs that actually build on themselves in triumphant crescendo (“Living,” “Tempe AZ” and “The Offensive Rhyme” chief among them), or at least change tempo enough so as to avoid too much “sameness.”  Rambunctious chant-along backing vocals abound, creating visions of sweat-filled basement punk show group choruses.

The aforementioned Waite doubles as the band’s bass player and teams in lockstep with drummer Moritz Kaltenbrunner to serve as a formidable anchor for the dueling guitars of Johnson and Liam to alternate between swirling leads (is that an Iron Maiden inspired riff I hear on “Greetings From”?) and layered power chords. There’s not a lot of polish involved on Nothing To Call Our Own, and that’s probably a good thing. Equal parts aggressive and melodic, the music brings with it a heaping helping of tempo and key changes. The occasional muddiness supports the lack of clarity and direction that is eloquently evoked in the lyrics “Heavy Head,” which is the album’s most down-tempo track. It gets off to a little bit of a sputtery start and the lyrics a tad clumsy in the second verse (too many syllables, not enough spaces). It’s obvious enough what they were going for, however. Plus, the instrumental section is pretty solid, so they get a pass.

All told, Nothing To Call Our Own is a better-than-solid release that finds The Bogarts taking a huge leap forward in progressing their sound without reinventing themselves. A little more focus in a few areas and they’re laying the foundation for a solid career as a punk rock force to be reckoned with.