Boo and Boo Too’s latest offering is a carefully-assembled, relentless affair, but one that often wanders from its course or tries too hard to apply its own ideas consistently and without pause. It’s an instrumental, technical and creative triumph, but its moments of true catharsis are too few and too infrequent, and can even feel accidental.
When making a record that builds frenetic layers of noise like some of Sonic Youth’s most hyperactive material might, one should always keep the point in mind. The noise isn’t to be made in the spirit of making noise or more thoroughly and technically exploring the possibilities in doing so. It should be made in recognition of how effectively emotive and narrative that noise can be. In other words, noise can be powerful stuff.
But only when the band involved acknowledges that’s what it’s supposed to be: a structural, artistic collection of sonic matter, and there’s very little of that elemental understanding afoot in Boo and Boo Too’s songwriting, it seems. In this light, some of the band’s greatest strengths also become potential weaknesses. The incredibly broad palette of guitar sounds they play with is the basis of the record’s strong instrumental intention and execution. That said, there are quite a few times here when the feedback or ground loop noises the band layers behind the riffs are distracting, homeless in the frequency spectrum and ill-placed. It seems like it’s there just to be there, and what it does do is rob the record of any moments of potential sparseness, a certain dynamic range and the pleasant insinuation that the structure of the songs is highly intelligent.
Oftentimes, excellent intros devolve into overloud noise, leading the song astray (“Bottom of the Lake”), but occasionally the band also does find room for the kinds of successes that will hopefully define their future material (“No Tempo” and “Sometimes at Night”).
What truly hamstrings this record, though, and keeps it from real greatness are its over-processed, snobbily-delivered genre vocals. Luckily, they’re not always present, but when they are their inconsiderate, pitchy drone is equal parts whininess, unintentional sarcasm and stylized slop. The lyrics are unintelligible (and average on closer examination, anyway), the treatment of the singing crispy and overpowering, and the exploitation of the production aesthetic merciless (stretching, repeating and droning vocals that are already underwhelming as if they’re a guitar note is a bad idea). This often keeps the record from the transcendent territory it flirts with.
There are ways to vocalize and narrate over this kind of delay and reverb-drenched, enormous, wall-of-noise guitar sound. Allan Epley (Shiner / the Life and Times) might be the best contemporary example. His approach is a called-for one, as far as its space alongside the music goes, and one that allows for the better moments of his band’s tidal build to go unrestrained by his voice’s presence. Which brings up a question that Boo and Boo Too will hopefully render irrelevant next time they release a full-length: Why listen to this band if there are others out there hitting the mark more consistently?