Album Review: Constant Bop

Release date: April 12, 2015
Artist: Bop English
Label: Blood & Biscuits

Constant Bop is just what it sounds like — a relentless pop record draped in a breezy, feel-good effect. Under the moniker “Bop English,” James Petralli (frontman of Austin-based rock quartet White Denim) has captured the pure ecstasy of a summer afternoon in a ten-track ode to the ’70s, each song triggering an unconscious foot tap, head bop, or shoulder sway. But this effortlessly enjoyable listen is actually the product of an artist’s enthusiastic attention to detail. In recording his solo effort, Petralli had the kind of unapologetic fun with multitracking and genre-fusing that, for less fluent artists, would translate to an ineffective lack of focus. Collaborating with a handful of musicians and producers, he sharply incorporated elements of folk rock, prog rock, country, funk, and soul into a single pop sensibility. Audiophiles, rejoice — Bop English’s impressive debut proves that accessibility and artistry are not mutually exclusive.

“Dani’s Blues (It Was Beyond Our Control)” makes for the perfect lead-in with punchy piano and an infectious groove reminiscent of T. Rex’s Electric Warrior. “Struck Matches” charges forth like folk-rock on speed with a hammering kick drum and funky bass ripple, its twangy guitars finishing in a swarm of distortions as Petralli recounts an unexpected psychedelic trip.

The good-humored “Trying” is a standout on the album; Petralli’s airy vocal reflects a charming knowingness toward his nonchalant lyrics, as brisk cowbell percussion and James-Brown-style sax interjections create a playful shuffle. “Falling at Your Feet” is another high point, avoiding traps of generic folkiness with a tender combination of cowboy pedal steel and island steelpan. “Sentimental Wilderness” offers a modern twist on roots rock with crisp acoustic riffs, R&B backbeats, and a vocoder effect.

Petralli’s knack for eclectic layering sometimes falls subject to overzealousness. “Have I Got It Wrong” could pass off as a Black Keys hit if not for Baroque elements like syncopated piano and harpsichord-toned keys, which overwhelm the vocal as the song progresses into cacophonous synths and drums. “Fake Dog” dives more successfully into psych rock with funky licks and trippy vocal distortions.

Constant Bop’s production demonstrates sonic dexterity more so than lyrical intent, its mixes highlighting distinct aesthetic layers over vocal clarity — but that does not mean the record lacks clever lyricism or emotional depth. On “Willy Spends an Evening,” the final chorus sounds ironically sunny with shimmying pedal steel and a jump in vocal octave, its lyrics lamenting the irresolute nature of dysfunctional relationships. Petralli’s songwriting proves most effective on “The Hardest Way,” with emotive pianos amplifying the heartbreaking sentiment of his candid lyrics.

The album concludes perfectly with “Long Distance Runner,” the best manifestation of Bop English’s overall appeal. Soul emanates through its reggae rhythm, sparkling piano interjections, jazzy guitar licks, and triumphant chorus. With hopeful lyrics and pristine production à la Abbey Road, this last track mirrors the promising nature of Bop English’s debut: a subtle gem of pop brilliance worthy of far more exposure than its indie release has garnered.

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