Click to hear: “Assisted Living”
The Portland band Bullyclub delivers 10 solid pop songs on their third album,Babbleluck, released last month.
Led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Doug Cowan, this group has been on the local scene in one form or another since the mid-1990s. Bullyclub has absorbed some elements of this scene over the years – like the alt-country of The Coming Grass and the angular, danceable rock of Spouse ¬- but the band has managed, almost stubbornly so, to remain itself. (The Spouse influence seems especially pronounced on this album, but that’s understandable given that Spouse frontman Jose Ayerve was once in the band, contributes guitar and vocals on two tracks here, and runs Pigeon Records, Bullyclub’s label.)
Cowan’s crafted nine tight, catchy songs for this album. The tenth is a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” (one of the songs with Ayerve). It’s a telling selection.
“Can’t Hardly Wait” is from Pleased to Meet Me, the 1987 album that marks The Replacements’ transition from sloppy rock to more produced pop songcraft. Bullyclub’s music occupies a similar space, somewhere between rock and a pop place.
Most of Babbleluck packs a rock punch, but it’s like the slug of a boxing glove, not a raw fist to the face. The band stays in control, never veering far from Cowan’s straight-ahead pop progressions. Solos are short and rare.
This reserve serves the songs well, though rock fans (like this reviewer) will be a bit disappointed. (It helps to play this album loudly.)
Cowan’s delivery is strong and assured, a voice that’s come into its own over the last decade of club gigs. His lyrics reflect the conflict between rock’s youthful exuberance and the prudence of maturity, with a health dose of self-deprecating humor. Take this exchange, from “Twice on Sunday:” “‘It’s the weekend,’ you say. ‘Do we have to be so old?’ ‘Sorry, pass the milk.'” Or just the title of the album’s riff-driven opening track, “Assisted Living.”
Veteran Bullyclubber Mark McDonough made the switch from bass to guitar when Ayerve left the band a couple years ago. His playing on Babbleluck well compliments Cowan’s crunchy, yet polished, power-chord approach.
New bassist Josh Denkmire is a solid addition to the group, and he adds some keyboard and melodica to the mix on a few tracks, like the dreamy, down-tempo “Dandelion.” Drummer John Nunan is in top form, and his backing vocals, especially on “Sick,” make you wish he contributed even more in that department.
Overall, Babbleluck works. It accomplishes what Cowan and the band set out to do: produce a modest, but earnest, pop-rock record with several radio-ready singles. I hear that WCLZ has been playing “Down Low” in heavy rotation lately. If you listen to that station, you should pick up the whole record. This is the music of your life.
— Chris Busby