The death of rock and roll is a subject that has been given a fair amount of attention, probably since its inception as an artform. For many of us who spend our lives strumming guitars, seeking out obscure LPs, and hanging out at smoky clubs with our blood trickling out of our ears while some misfit band tortures their instruments beyond recognition, the idea that rock and roll could ever die is absurd. Laughable. A bold, blind misstatement. But for many others, it’s just as laughable that there would be some dopey twenty-and-thirty-somethings out there listening to The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, feebly trying to replicate a sound that was dated before we were even born. And look around you, rock and roll dudes and babes: our numbers are decreasing, and, all the while, more and more of your friends are becoming DJs or circuit-benders, one-man R&B acts with samplers and synthesizers... But what can be done? To each his own, as the saying goes. Anyway, I’m not sure what kids listen to when they believe that rock and roll is dead. A lot of synthesizer music, techno, hip hop, R&B, perhaps harsh noise? The non-rock-based realms of music are expanding all the time, which, like it or not, is necessary for the evolution of music. Just because I spent my formative years in basements trying to figure out how to convert an electric guitar into a lightning-powered magic wand, that doesn’t mean I can ignore the fact that a large part of the population (including some really brilliant artists and musicians) have “moved on” from rock music. And you can’t really blame them - as a template, rock and roll can be pretty limited (although, when it’s done right, it’s pretty much the best thing ever). But like I said, I may not know exactly what kids listen to when they decide The Sex Pistols are more obsolete than Dad’s Jimmy Buffet t-shirt, but I can say with complete conviction that they should be listening to Bomb Deluise. Bomb Deluise is the alias of Indianapolis beat-maker / synth wizard, Jesse Smiley, an electronic musician with a sly sense of humor, whose songs vary in influence and style but are almost always way outside of the rock sphere. That said, I don’t think Bomb Deluise intends to proclaim or celebrate rock’s demise at all, even in a scene inundated by bearded Strat-ninjas with their hearts on their flannel sleeves. Instead, his music is a timely reminder of the ways rock and roll has evolved over the last couple of decades to embrace a wealth of forms and sonic innovations. And it’s rife with the reclusive, bedroom feel that has become the only reasonable reflection of our increasingly interconnected, post-privacy age. Why go to a bar to kick out the jams every night, howling onstage with a drunken posse, when you can fight the power in an equally meaningful (and potentially more relevant) way by staying home and recording Prince-inspired slow jams on your laptop?
(Flowers cover image)
Of course, all this armchair philosophizing is unnecessary: all we have to do is consult the music. On his new EP, Flowers, Bomb Deluise proves himself to be a competent sound artist with a knack for oddly warped, electronic anti-pop that at once embraces and renegotiates the definition of “classic” music. The album opens with “Michelle (feat. Julsy),” a smooth sonic shower of bleeps and bloops atop a pretty melody that somehow conjures both 90s radio R&B and more recent electro-pop like Neon Indian or Toro Y Moi. “Michelle” is over quickly, transitioning into the thumping beat and pitch-shifted sample that carry “A Long Time,” a glossy, sentimental tune that sounds something like mid-career Beck trapped inside a Casio keyboard - in a good way. Smiley’s skills are apparent: a blend of skittering, 90s hip hop-influenced beats with modern production techniques and vintage synthesizers. “Flowers (Bomb D theme)” features a D'angelo-style vocal on the verses and a very George Clinton-esque chorus, all set to a beat that could comfortably sit next to any Aquemini-era Outkast song. So what if there are no guitars? I’ll bet you’re shaking your ass by minute two, unless you just don’t like to party. A heavy Prince influence is also detectable throughout the Flowers EP, which definitely doesn’t hurt. But again, it’s not solo-shredding, “Let’s Go Crazy” Prince; more like “If I Was Your Girlfriend” or “I Would Die For You” time-warped and reimagined by Berlin-era Bowie and Eno. “Is It Gone? (It’s Gone)” is another strong offering featuring great vocals, bizarre keyboard sounds, and a pleading, anxious tone before switching over to a slick slap-bass-and-handclap 80s beat. “Gold Standrrd (feat. Bruce Friedman)” consists of a more contemporary chillwave vibe that features a breathy, delayed trumpet solo in the foreground. But “Eggs” is the clear winner here. It’s high-hat heavy, booty-shaking beat is undeniable, and Smiley’s weird vocal approach is somewhere between Jookabox and Ween. But repeated listens to Flowers reveal that perhaps above all else, Bomb Deluise is a master of synthesizers. The sounds are always perfectly evocative of a bygone era, and they are played with delicate care and good taste.
(We don't have a pic of Bomb Deluise, but this will do for now.)
Bomb Deluise’s music could easily fall into the category of “kitsch” or “novelty,” but the innocently playful mood hides a melancholy, wistful tone that lends Flowers an added emotional complexity and maturity. The album grows in the listener’s mind as it unfolds, and the slightly out-of-date sound pallette comes to signify something wholly other than cheap entertainment or nostalgia: a vague sense of loss and the healing powers of love. Check out “Long Time (mellow version)” for an example how Bomb Deluise can pull off beauty and emotional honesty in a synthesized, digital setting. Beats the hell out of a kid whining with an acoustic guitar. Fans of Clams Casino’s gauzy layers of lazer synths would be wise to dig “bo.net-mousetooth (Bomb Deluise innerspace remix),” another slow-bumping jam signalling that Bomb Deluise is both in line with the times and willing to challenge the boundaries of new electronic music. It has been exciting to see a recent flow of less rock-influenced acts joining the MFT archives. Whether it’s the wonderfully absurd rap/dance music fuckery of Michael Jukeson and Beverly Bounce House, the synthed-out new wave/trip-hop of ‘Verse, or the underground hip hop vibe of rappers like Blake Allee or Grey Granite, I’m happy to embrace a variety of textures and styles in my local music. I may always return to my frayed copies of psych rock and post-punk records, but I think the most content music fans are the ones who are unafraid to expand their horizons. And Bomb Deluise is, by nature, a horizon-expander. Sure, his music pulls heavily from the years of his youth, and he smashes together all kinds of new and old sounds, but, above all else, his music sounds good. And for most of us, younger generation included, that’s what really matters.