September 16, 2005

Boyracer "Insults & Insights"

It’s been a year and a half since I last reviewed a Boyracer record in Mundane Sounds. Since then, they’ve released one full-length album, three 7-inch singles and FOUR mini-albums. Insults and Insights isn’t even their most recent release --- it just happens to be the one that my editor gave me to review. I guess that Stewart Anderson is using the breakup of Guided by Voices (my OTHER favorite band) as an opportunity to soundly thrash him in the prolificacy department. Then again, he lives with his equally talented wife Jen Turrell in the desert, on a cattle farm that doubles as a recording studio. I’d record a billion songs a day too if I were in his position! Fortunately, Anderson is a better editor than Pollard. Boyracer releases have a much higher signal-to-noise ratio now than they did in the ‘90s, and this eight-song EP is yet another small triumph in a discography that’s already chock full of small triumphs.

Opener “Louise” begins with Stewart slowly plucking out a chord on his acoustic guitar. At first, I thought the song was going to be a ballad…until Stewart started strumming in his normal hyperactive style and the drums kicked in. Before 30 seconds had passed, the fuzzy guitars had taken over and I was once again jumping around my apartment like an idiot, like all the best Boyracer songs compel me to do. Stewart sings about a woman who has one-night stands with all the wrong boys, and Jen (who, at this point, is also Stewart’s sole band mate) backs him up with sweet unison vocals. It sounds like business as usual, until something comes along that I’d never expect to hear on a Boyracer song: SOLOING! Stewart gives us a guitar solo AND a drum solo before wrapping the song up right at the two-minute mark. It’s a fitting introduction to an EP that finds him and Jen taking chances and stretching their songs out.

“The Sadness in You” is built on a four-on-the-floor drum pattern and chicken-scratch rhythm guitar, and it’s the closest that Boyracer have ever come to actually being funky. “The Second Fiddle” goes even further out, not only by approaching the six-minute mark (!!!), but by juxtaposing Stewart’s mellow finger-picking and (mostly) sweet crooning with booming timpani and screeching synthesizers. Closer “Tell Me What You Want (Then Tell Me What You Need)” lays on the speed, distortion and feedback even thicker than usual, and even takes a page from the My Bloody Valentine songbook in the way that Stewart’s and Jen’s voices imitate the pitch-imperfect guitars. Last but not least, both members seem to have shaken off the timidity that has hindered their vocal performances on recent releases, partially the otherwise great Happenstance album. They project and stretch their voices much more now, which can occasionally lead to some painfully off-key singing (“The Second Fiddle”) but more often yields great and unexpected melodies “Fast Boyfriends”).

Insults and Insights is a fitting summary of Anderson’s approach to writing lyrics. His words are passive-aggressive rants about interpersonal drama that just happen to be shoehorned into verse/chorus format. Whether he’s trying to encourage a troubled friend (“The Sadness in You”) or being forced to deal with people he doesn’t like (“Smile on Cue”), Anderson always sounds as if he’s singing to a particular person in his life. The universality of his topics and the catchiness of his songs keep solipsism at bay, though.

What more can I say? Boyracer keeps on churning out great songs at a rate that puts most other bands to shame, and Insults and Insights is as good a starting point as any for those who haven’t yet been exposed to Anderson’s brand of heartfelt noise-pop.

--Sean Padilla

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