In the early 2010s, Parquet Courts sowed a distinct strain of tightly wound intellectual punk music that vented existential malaise, often through a frustrated deadpan. It was easy to connect fellow New Yorkers BODEGA to that lineage when they made their full-length debut with Endless Scroll in 2018, but on the quintet’s followup, Broken Equipment, they stray into more sonically oblique, as well as personal, territory.
Mid-tempo thumper “NYC (Disambiguation)” builds to an anthemic chorus before welcoming a genial guitar interlude. “Seneca the Stoic” boasts a meaty rock ‘n’ roll riff. Molded in the shape of conventional indie rock, “How Can I Help YA?” and “All Past Lovers” risk sounding flat compared to the rest of BODEGA’s exhilarating catalogue, but the band impress with their deft grasp of the form. “C.I.R.P.” nods at hip hop, incorporating almost rapped lyrics and cartoonish vocal delivery that borders on skit-like.
Singer/percussionist Nikki Belfiglio led many of Endless Scroll’s brightest highlights including “Gyrate,” a hip-rattling romp celebrating female masturbation. She continues to radiate every time she steps into the spotlight on Broken Equipment, like on “Statuette on the Console,” an unapologetic power-pop gem. As the absolute earworm surges forth, so too do thoughts of the New Pornographers‘ “Champions of Red Wine” featuring Neko Case, as well as the ecstatic joy of Wolf Parade. “Statuette” is also notable for Belfiglio’s focus on melodic singing instead of her usual rapid-fire vocal delivery.
Endless Scroll wrestled against the ennui of being reduced to an automaton. “All day at work, stare at computer / Come home from work, stare at computer / Do my own work, stare at computer / I’m reading an article at work, stare at computer,” Belfiglio and singer/guitarist Bodega Ben mechanically recited on “Bookmarks.” But on Broken Equipment, they reclaim their humanity. “Pillar on the Bridge of You” is the first love song Ben ever wrote for Belfiglio. “After Jane,” a wrenching tambourine-and-acoustic-guitar strummer, imagines a conversation between Ben and his mother, who passed away several weeks before BODEGA recorded Endless
“After Jane” also poses Broken Equipment’s central questions. Whereas Endless Scroll grappled with “Where are we?” Broken Equipment interrogates further: “How did I get here? What makes us who we are?” On “After Jane,” Ben realizes he has inherited his mother’s curiosity, raw-nerved punk spirit, and commitment to always speaking truth to power. Runaway sprint “Thrown” finds Ben describing the multiple ways his personality has been blasted and sculpted by pernicious influences like “big rock ads.” Belfiglio reckons with the ways she’s been indoctrinated with harmful cultural values. On “Territorial Call of the Female,” she owns up to her complicity in reinforcing patriarchy. “When the man is around, that’s when I’m putting you down,” she sings of competing against other women for male attention over a chugging mid-tempo beat that remains even-keeled even as spurts of guitar noise well up.
BODEGA’s excoriations of our algorithmic world, the mores of online culture, and the almost inlaid social divisions of Web 2.0 are all on point, but what vaults the band into a unique stratum is the way they’ve coupled those broad criticisms with self-reflexive personal work. Add to that an expanded sonic palette, including daring forays into the quotidian and greater attention to songcraft, and Broken Equipment is a testament to BODEGA’s robust growth, a high water mark for any artist seeking to challenge themselves and the culture that imposes itself on and ultimately shapes us all.
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