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Budokan Boys
So Broken Up About You Dying Noel Gardner , November 10th, 2020 09:20

Berlin-based Budokan Boys bring skewed avant-pop delights on this nine-song metaphysical sound clash

Evidently keen to pad their absurdism with facetiousness, bizarro-synth American emigrants Budokan Boys recently lamented that the early-October release of this album was overshadowed by the admission of Donald Trump to hospital, and more specifically his failure to die in there. Talk about your viral marketing!, we might have chuckled in a better world, but instead we must get right to the business of praising a release whose concept stares death – the actual death of actual people – in the face before peanutting its tie.

Jeff T Byrd and Michael Jeffrey Lee formed Budokan Boys in New Orleans but currently live in Berlin. Byrd, who writes most of the duo’s music, arrived there via Vienna, his home when he released a commendably creepy solo instrumental album in 2017. Latterly, he found himself processing grief after the loss of his father, Bob. Lee’s brother Patrick, who contributed lyrics to Budokan Boys’ second release Dad Is Bad, had also died recently. Thematically, then, So Broken Up About You Dying wrote itself, but its execution in no way resembles a stonefaced eulogy or treats the topic with kid gloves.

The apex of this approach is found in the title track, a spoken piece over cartoon-dramatic synthesised strings where Lee details his varyingly rational coping mechanisms. He peruses pornography stored on the deceased’s laptop, argues with a postman about what Half Man Half Biscuit called “junk mail addressed to the dead”, disposes of tequila and a mattress before regretting both, and asks a coroner on a date with the intention of extracting classified information. It feels vaguely like one of those Netflix standup specials you get nowadays where someone works through their trauma and occasionally tells jokes, but about one tenth as long, ergo better.

Elsewhere, Byrd shows himself capable of writing queasily memorable hooks, and hiding them inside a very crooked kind of pop music. That’s How You Become A Clown, Budokan Boys’ five-song debut from 2018, touted a fair Residents vibe in its moments of vaudevillian minimal synth; So Broken…’s ‘Dee Wants Death’ is like The Residents meets Soundcloud rap, if you can credit that (let alone it being good). ‘Rip U’ finds Lee adopting an Alan Vega curled-lip quaver, Byrd doubling down on morbid rockabilly electro. Perhaps by design, the vocalist doesn’t really settle on a definitive singing voice. ‘Beach’ is delivered in the style of a black metal frontman introducing songs, for reasons unclear, and punctuates its clashing EBM frame with wilfully incongruous samples of waves and seagulls, while ‘Dead Soul’ ascends to the other end of the vocal register to quasi-operatically adopt the persona of someone who plunged to their demise from a high building (“I saw an open window / I felt the prick of conscience”).

An album which originates in harsh reality is bookended by its two most fantastical parts. ‘The Magic Beggar’ is the longest song on the album, at nearly seven minutes, and Budokan Boys’ proggiest venture to date: a synth swirls like the beginnings of a sandstorm, Byrd conjures up some cod-Arabic saxploitation, Lee warns of the title’s mythic villain, and the entirety is less kitsch or obnoxious than all that makes it sound. Conversely, ‘The Magic Mountain’ features the album’s only guest, Lenka Soukupová, whose monologue instructs the listener on how to ascend to a higher plane. Suffice to say it sounds like a real hassle, and that you’re probably better advised sticking it out on Earth with the rest of us lumpen fleshbags. Will So Broken Up About You Dying help you make sense of the alive/not alive binary conundrum? That would be a big claim to make to a probable stranger, but it’s an impressively non-categorisable, mordantly funny avant-pop delight.