The Bonapartes – S/T EP

The Bonapartes’ self-titled (and apparently self-released) EP shows a DC band making music that doesn’t sound DC-based. Instead, it sounds like a lot of what’s coming out of New York these days, which is another way of saying that it sounds like an update of what was coming out of Britain in the 80s and early 90s… in a good way.

Lead track “Russia” begins by showing a little bit of DC and a little bit of Britain. The low-fidelity intro that gives way to the full-fidelity verse follows the recording pattern of Minor Threat’s take on “Stepping Stone,” while the drum beat can be found on U2’s “With or Without You” (itself copped from Disco Inferno’s criminally neglected In Debt opener “Entertainment”). On “Russia,” the lead guitar line switches nicely from dirty atonality to bright melody at the transition from verse to chorus. It’s a catchy song, but then all of the songs here are memorable.

“Domino Theory” again starts off with a rhythm and guitar line that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early U2 record. Its three-chord chorus, though, packs a kind of nervous energy that is much more Stiff Little Fingers or Undertones than it is U2. Even when the band goes “rock,” though, frontman Scott continues to sing, where others might have turned to screaming. Each of the five songs here break into rock-type choruses that would have tempted other singers to start yelling, but instead the band often conveys its breakaway energy by launching into double-time (or is it half-time?) playing. Drummer Dex does a really nice job of anchoring and animating the band’s overall sound, often moving from using the toms during the verses to the brighter high-hat or cymbals during the choruses.

On “Achilles,” perhaps the most punchy (and shortest) track, The Bonapartes go for a Buzzcocks/Compulsion type of sound. It’s a pretty straight-ahead rock song without the modulations in playing and intensity in the other songs. “Achilles” closes the EP and follows from the intensity of its predecessor “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” The real gem of the five songs has to be “Concentric.” As claimed by the band, its signature guitar line will stick with you. Even though that same overtone-driven hook is played in both the verse and the chorus for the first half of the song – and picked up again for the ending – you don’t really notice that fact or grow tired of it. The structure of the song doesn’t vary much from that of the others, which might be my only real wish for this EP.

As much as I enjoyed listening to these tracks, I also was hoping to hear the band play around or experiment a little, maybe change things up a bit or throw in a curveball. The good news is that the band has a confident sound, thoughtful songwriting, and solid execution, and given the chance to record a full album’s worth of material, these guys might do just that: expand their sound or formula a bit. That said, this EP makes a strong case for The Bonapartes – let’s hope that the band does give us a full album sometime soon.