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The BV's - Taking Pictures ... (Shelflife)

22 February 2024

Three albums in, The BV’s are increasingly a little hard to pin down, giving the band a distinctive edge on their sparkling new record, ”Taking Pictures of Taking Pictures” out on Shelflife in the US and Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten in Europe. At times they vibe in the Sarah Records stratosphere, but detour just enough with a reverb-y twang of surf guitars layered alongside jangly indie pop. Such is the case with the strong opening track “Clipping” that first caught my ear when it was released as a single in late ‘23.

The Augsburg-based band consists of Josh (vocals/guitar), Fred (vocals/guitar), Matt (bass), and Hannes (drums). I spoke with Josh via email and he relayed just how collaboratively DIY they are as a band:
”In addition to the instruments we play, we all do other stuff too: Fred does all the artwork and design, as well as recording and producing; I (Josh) do all the press, interviews, writing, text, social media and merch; Hannes books and organizes all the shows and tours; Matt writes and plays a lot of the synth parts, also playing them on-stage with his feet at the same as playing bass. We want everything to be as DIY as possible so that we have control over how our music sounds and looks, where we play, who we work with, etc.”
Musically, they hinted at their expanding style and directional shifts on their last LP, ”Cartography” (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten, 2019) in places, but the new record wholly showcases their evolving DNA. Now that Josh has relocated from the UK to Germany, the band are firing on all cylinders:
”The whole band being in one place and being able to practice every week and write songs together has changed the way we do things. Although me and Fred are still the primary songwriters…it’s a much more collaborative process and has evolved our sound into something much fuller and developed. Matt’s noodling pop bass lines, for example, are a big part of the album on songs like ‘Clipping’ and ‘Sundays’, and Hannes’s dynamic drumming also adds a massive new element to the krautrock songs like ‘Kleber’ and ‘D../’. Practicing every week has also made us a much better band and much better musicians, which means we can write better songs and work better together as a group.”

The album nicely features English and German-language songs sung by Josh or Fred, respectively. Auf Deutsch, “Anything” drips with bleakness like a lost Cure song from the ”Seventeen Seconds” or ”Faith” era, while “Blue/Golden Sunshine” revisits more uplifting janglepop, with vocals deep and low in the mix, creating an unexpected and bewitching Galaxie 500 / Luna -like mood.

Shared vocal duties actually figured into the band’s name, as Josh explained to me:
”When we first started writing songs together, neither of us wanted to sing, so we thought that ‘The Backing Vocals’ would be an apt name. Like everything, though, it has acquired other meanings throughout the life of the band. A lot of our themes, lyrics and album titles are about abstraction, about not being able to say what you mean, about the space between the words and what you say, so I think the band name speaks to that, too.”

“I Can’t Stand the Rain” is a ball of breezy guitars, with a summery sound to nicely counterbalance whining, winter weather lyrics. The results remind me of Real Estate with a dash of The Darkside, who sang a similar though opposing refrain on “Don’t Stop the Rain” from ”All That Noise” (Beggar’s Banquet, 1990).

The dreamy title track starts perfectly sparsely. Chiming guitars are a lullaby, while a simple snare holds the beat. But the band isn’t satisfied delivering a one-dimensional arrangement. Gears change late in the song, taking a Velvet Underground turn. Josh points out that the band has many influences:
”The band started as us wanting to make an indiepop record in the vein of Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Sarah bands, The Radio Dept., McCarthy, The Verlaines, etc., but quickly evolved due to our wide spectrum of influences. We all listen to lots of music, all of which influences our songwriting. Some other big influences in addition to those above would be: Flying Nun (NZ label); krautrock; coldwave/synthpunk; 70s/80s powerpop; and even hip-hop and RnB.”

With a nod to the band’s German base, “Breakdown” has a Kraftwerk -iness in its deadpan and repeating lyrical phrases. Synths are swapped with sparse and echoing guitars, while a motorik drum rhythm chugs along.

The BV’s build songs often with a hypnotically repetitive riff, and occasionally with a resulting shoegaze-y feel, as with “Kleber.” I was curious to ask Josh, because successive EPs and albums have closed with the songs “A../”, “B../”, “C../”, and “D../”. I asked him to explain the backstory:
”We’re all big krautrock fans, so these songs are our attempts at mixing that with an indiepop/shoegaze sensibility to create something interesting. At every show we play one of these [A, B, C, D] in the middle of the set, where apart from the basic notes everything else is improvised, so it’s different every time.”

On record, the mysterious instrumental that closes this record, “D../”, is excellent, building slowly for five gorgeous minutes before slowing down for two more minutes like a train languidly pulling into the bahnhof.

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