The Bobby Lees – Bellevue (Ipecac Recordings)
Does the third album by ‘American psychos’, the ‘wild and uninhibited’ mixed gender guitar band The Bobby Lees just prove they the finest feral punk rock’n’roll group in the USA? Or are they the next underground-to-mainstream band in a Nirvana / White Stripes kinda style? Asks Ged Babey for Louder Than War.
I love this band. They are young and they are ‘punk rock’ (Or ‘unbridled rock’n’roll’ if you prefer…)
If you thought Amyl & the Sniffers were the Return of Proper Punk Rock’n’Roll…
If you still can’t understand why Jon Spencer & the Blues Explosion weren’t as ‘big as Nirvana’….
If you imagine the greatest imaginary band ever would be made up of members of the Gun Club, Dead Kennedys, Pixies and Hole…
Then, you are ready to welcome The Bobby Lees into your life and for Bellevue to take up residence on your stereo.
Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Henry Rollins…these are just a few of the punk icons who have shown support for Woodstock, NY based band The Bobby Lees. Sam Quartin [vocals, guitar], Macky Bowman [drums], Nick Casa [guitar], and Kendall Wind [bass] — make music that is punk in spirit and soul; unfettered and resolutely honest. To say their sound is wild and untethered is an understatement. It’s the kind of aural exorcism any listener can tap into, something that struck a chord with Henry Rollins who brought them to Ipecac Recordings where Mike Patton and Greg Werckman signed them.
Tom Crossley, from London band The Phobics posted the Dig Your Hips video with the words: “This is what happens when you merge Blank Generation with Blister in the Sun and California Uber Alles” encapsulating my exact thoughts.
I’ve been listening to Bellevue for a month now and it’s firmly embedded in my personal ‘forever’ playlist of American Greats – Dolls, Circle Jerks, L7, Babes In Toyland – my snap-me-out-of-it. when I dine it’s for the wall that I set a place mood-list.
This album is magnificent: primal, rural, feral, rock’n’roll. (I wanted to avoid calling it ‘punk rock’ as the term has become so degraded and associated with things like the Exploited playing at Butlins in 2022…) If this is punk rock, it’s that first taste of American Hardcore – DI playing Richard Hung Himself in Suburbia…. crossed with the Sex Beat of the Gun Club and the self-exorcism of Hole.
With their intelligent and thoughtful song writing, The Bobby Lees follow their instincts as musicians and friends, working together to create the songs that would eventually form Bellevue. The sound is gritty, minimalist and visceral, each song is an ode to the misfits.
Vocalist and lyricist Sam always felt like she wasn’t good enough to start a band, until her creative spirit could be curtailed no more. “I felt like something was eating me alive inside, and I had to get it out in a creative way or die…”I guess the pain of NOT doing it became greater than the fear of doing it, so I had no choice but to try.”
Sam Quartin, the vocalist is/was an actress in critically acclaimed, gritty art-house movies from what I understand from a bit of googling. This makes me a tiny bit suspicious… Is she ‘role-playing’ in the band? Well, if you listen to the earlier work, watch a few videos… live footage on Youtube… read her interviews… No. I don’t think so. This is a genuinely wild and fucked-up r’n’r band who can play and whip up a storm.
That’s not to say Quartin doesn’t get into character vocally on songs where the lyrics demand it. Little Table is sung from the point of view of a subservient woman and Hollywood Junkyard a disillusioned and burnt-out fame-seeker.
In the US update of Breaking Glass style video for the latter they go to great pains to show they are not a malleable, manufactured, image conscious band…. or is that all a double-bluff!
Ever since I saw the Drive video I was fascinated with the Bobby Lees.
The look is like an American Gothic for 2022 – the setting a petrol station converted into tattoo parlour. The clothes – dungarees and ‘gas station attendant’ chic. The vibe, My Name Is Earl meets Breaking Bad style Americana. The US of A that us Brits who’ve never been there imagine in our TV-saturated fever dreams.
The album cover too is so untypical of an ‘up and coming American Rock’n’Roll band’ – a big fat hog and the dishevelled singer covered in pigshit and mud after a wrestle with the fucker.
The music takes in jazz, blues, no-wave, cinema music as well as grunge, surf and punk.
Seesawing back and forth with manic intensity, “Monkey Mind” explodes with a head-crushing hook. Sam expands, “It’s about your head talking to you too loudly or being mean to yourself”
“Strange Days” shows another side of the group altogether. In between menacingly bass-y piano, Sam’s vocals crack and crest over the minimal soundscape as she muses about “a Murakami dream.”
As feverish and nihilistic as the music can at times seem, there’s always a glimmer of hope at the core of each song. “I named the album Bellevue because when I listen back, I hear someone going through that stuff, who is now able to laugh about it and have fun re-telling the stories,” says Sam. “It’s a reminder for me that the most painful and intense things I go through end up being the most rewarding creatively.” When asked what she hopes the response to Bellevue will be, she replies: “When I hear something I like or connect to, I feel less alone and I get some hope to keep going. It gets me out of my own story. My only hope would be that maybe this record does that for someone else”
Lots of the songs have little echoes of other songs: Have You Seen A Girl – the Pixies ‘Cactus‘. Death Train just sounds like it should be by the Gun Club. Strange Days and Little Table have the dark cocktail jazz vibe of Lydia Lunchs Queen of Siam. Hollywood Junkyard must be a title at least that Courtney Love rejected. A Blues Explosion influence pervades the whole album following Jon Spencer producing the previous album ‘Skin Suit’ – also excellent but lacking the variety of Bellevue.
You have an urge to listen to White Blood Cells the second you’ve finished listening to Bellevue for the third time in a row, just to remind yourself that Jack white was never actually this good and this consistent when he was in the garage at this age.
The only thing not quite right with Bellevue is the running order – the fantastic cover of the Waterboys ‘Be My Enemy’ should have closed proceedings instead of a throwaway Mystery Theme Song – a messy surf instro hucklebuck that summons the ghost of Dick Dale. The majestically scathing Greta Van Fake should’ve been track two… and so on.
The Bobby Lees are just too good for the mainstream. Too raw, too wild, too feral… but clever enough to tease the money-men and taste-makers who know there is still a massive potential market for a band like this.
Personally, I hope the Bobby Lees remain the most inspirational cult-level, gut-instinct, kick-ass band – stay happy and healthy – but I fear that they may go up a level, onto the business treadmill and tear themselves apart.
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All words by Ged Babey