The Bobby Lees - Bellevue (Cover Artwork)

The Bobby Lees

Bellevue (2022)

Ipecac Recordings

Around 20 years ago, post-Napster but still firmly in the pre-streaming era, I used to work in a record store. We had a major label music rep/street team type who would regularly come in with promo CDs and talk up whatever band he thought was going to save rock n roll that week. He was a nice enough guy, but the bands were almost always mediocre, and almost always had come out of nowhere to somehow end up with completely inorganic-feeling major label distribution deals. They generally weren’t even bands that would blow up following the manufactured hype, but instead would just end up remembered as a depressing pile of promotional items near the door and dollar bin cutout-barcode CDs.

The Bobby Lees landing their third album Bellevue on Ipecac Recordings feels like the opposite of that. Since their formation in 2018, their profile seems to have risen purely from touring and releasing solid records. The band coming from of Woodstock, NY (which, despite its namesake festival’s significance in music history, is not exactly a hotbed for contemporary bands) and playing VFWs and off-the-beaten-path towns until they ended up on the radar of Henry Rollins, who brought them to Ipecac Recordings, feels like a victory for the good guys.

Although maybe not quite in sound, in spirit, they remind me a lot of the early days of The Bronx, who were appearing on samplers and tours for mall metalcore label Ferret Music at the same time they were getting nods from hipper circles like the Explosion’s Tarantulas label and webzine/provocateurs Buddyhead. The Bronx didn’t quite fit in with any of those camps, but they were easy enough to “get” that it kind of didn’t matter. Similarly, the Bobby Lees do not neatly fit into a particular subgenre, but the almost-hardcore ripper title track that opens Bellevue is undeniably some kind of punk.

“Hollywood Junkyard” that follows it is at the other end of the spectrum, with a creepy, barely-restrained march from its verses that explodes into a huge chorus. These two songs immediately establish Bellevue as an ambitious step up from their previous work in terms of songwriting range. Elsewhere, there’s “Death Train”, with a galloping bassline that treads the same territory as the Gun Club, or maybe the Dead Kennedys’ cover of “Rawhide”. There’s also a dark bluesy piano track in “Strange Days”, which would have been a great surprise here if they hadn’t unveiled it on a teaser EP earlier this year.

Side B opens with a brief Sabbath-esque slow build before "Have You Seen a Girl" kicks into some dark-sounding garage punk that made me think of the Murder City Devils. “Monkey Mind” throws some Mike Garson-style piano over a hook that reminds me of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” (or, if Kraftwerk feels like too weird of a reference point for a band as guitar-driven as the Bobby Lees, maybe Big Black’s cover of “The Model”?) The album adds one more influence to the list by closing with a revved-up cover of 80s Scottish folk rockers the Waterboys “Be My Enemy”, and for all the directions the Bobby Lees go on Bellevue, they all generally work.

While much of the lyrical content of the record deals with vocalist Sam Quartin’s past mental health struggles, there’s at least one notable deviation that feels worth mentioning. “Greta Van Fake” takes aim at the Zeppelin-wannabe Hobbit rockers who have blown up among nerds over the past few years. While I’m obviously in favor of this sort of thing even without knowing the context, the specificity of the lyrics makes me wonder if the two bands have actually encountered each other somewhere.

I’m not so delusional to think that any particular band is gonna save rock n roll, but if the discussion is of bands who are going to continue to play rock n roll in the 2020s and actually still be cool, I’ll take the Bobby Lees over Greta Van Fa-, er, Fleet every time.