Bag of Cans : We Are a Band

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Bag of Cans We Are A Band review

Other than We Are A Band—the newly released album from Norwich-based five-piece Bag of Cans—is there any other record in musical history bold enough to put as its first track a song celebrating the cyclical mundanity of the humble washing machine? (If you just said Ultimate Care II, congratulations. Now go outside). Because that is exactly the focus of “Spin Cycle,” a bracing, scrappy, indie-rock number that kicks Bag of Cans’ full-length debut into action with a sincere approach to stupidity, and ensures the record starts as it means to go on. Not long after this ditty, we have songs detailing dual-lead vocalists George Bryce and George Baker’s fascination with a particularly stylish butterfly (“Looking hella fly / Decked out in a suit and tie”), then a harrowing story concerning unwanted advances from a psychotic milkman; then, (questionable) advice on how to get over a hangover (“Go on the social media profile of everyone you’ve ever had sex with”).

These are not the sorts of topics that most rock ‘n’ roll bands would bother addressing. But the overwhelming impression given by We Are A Band is that Bag of Cans are not only entirely uninterested in sounding normal, but that they wouldn’t even know how to if they tried. Instead, they sacrifice conventionality for an absurdist, vaudevillian style of humour that draws much of its energy from the dynamic between performer and audience. Here is a band well aware they’re being completely ridiculous. They’re gleefully embracing the fact they’re singing to you about a classily-dressed insect, and the joyful charm at the heart of these 10 songs is that for the 2 or 3 minutes of their runtime, you’re going to be rocking out to these silly little concepts like they’re the most liberating, exhilarating thing in the world.

And rock out you will, because Bag of Cans are keenly aware of the difference between putting out a series of jokes set to a melody, and putting out a series of songs that happen to have jokes in them. “Milk and More,” the milkman odyssey mentioned above, builds from a hushed, dreamy opening compounded by a series of sweetly hazy vocal harmonies, but soon explodes into a jagged, ferocious, blues-rock cacophony. “Hair of the Dog” boasts a cool, beach-party-ready brass section, while the groovy, thumping basslines on “Chris Alice” make for a compelling, hip-shaking, dance-rock banger. “Vasectomy,” possibly the album’s weakest point lyrically speaking, indulges in an infectious pattern of tension and release—courtesy of the relentless stop-start-stop-start of the fuzzy, chugging guitars—that nonetheless enables it to hold its own.

The best tracks on We Are A Band, though, are the ones that go some way to bridging the gap between the Cans’ bizarre sense of humor and more grounded, relatable, even vulnerable storytelling. “Houseproud,” for example, through a blasé (and consistently funny) indie-swagger, gives voice to the alarm likely to be felt by young adults who find that their slow drift from adolescence has made them suddenly giving a shit about the state of their living situation. “Hostage at the Dinner Table,” meanwhile, makes a deliciously angsty mosh-fest out of an awkward meeting with an old friend who seems to be doing a little better than you are (“Darling, I am sick of / This scorecard bullshit / What a lovely picket fence!”).

By trying their hand at both the surreal and the more personal, Bag of Cans present us with a world where the anxious humdrum of everyday human existence is enlivened by a cobbled patchwork of giddy, irresistible silliness. It’s an engaging mix, though not always perfect – following up “Gaunt,” the album’s only ‘serious’ song, with the semi-improvised, entirely-comic “Sorry Mum That I Was Hungover This Christmas,” creates a smidgen of tonal whiplash, for instance. But it demonstrates a range and quality of musicianship that proves Bag of Cans’ abilities far exceed simply spewing a whirlwind of gags into an audience and seeing what lands. In other words, it shows they are a band. Which is exactly what they were trying to tell us in the first place. I think they’ve succeeded.

Label: Fierce Panda

Year: 2023

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