Big Bill Makes Weirdness Transcendental on Stand By Your Bill

by Allanah Maarteen

Big Bill Stand By Your Bill

When I first saw Big Bill in 2014, I swooned for what occurred to me at the time as an intellectual punk sound. In it, I heard the Violent Femmes and the party surf of the early B-52s, and it excited the absurdist in me. But as I’ve watched them grow over the last few years, shaping into a vibrant, showier act, I’ve found myself both drawn in and repulsed by the garish colors, tangled wigs, unibrows and general flashy irreverence of it all. Lately, I see them as a strange postmodern mess, meaninglessly meaningful, enchantingly disgusting. Weird for sure. But is weird enough?

Stand By Your Bill, their first full length record, says yes. Uniting post-punk with some of the more indulgent genres—doo wop to surf to blues metal—the album carves out a juicy monster and serves it, dripping, at an ill-dressed table with nothing but your hands to feed you. You dig in, your fingers and lips wet with oil and fat, your body trusting the beat, giving in to the confusion, and suddenly, weird is enough. Because to Big Bill, weird is more than unusual or abnormal or strange. Weird is transcendent, uncanny. And there, in the elevation of weirdness, the band explores the absurdity of human experience; through sonic mindscapes, they lead us to confront familiar tensions we so often ignore.

In the second track, “Loitering,” Eric Braden channels a voice of agitation and resentment: “They try to sweep me away with a broom/They can’t keep me away with a broom/I’ll hang out here as long as I like/They should be happy I’m not inside.” It’s the man outside the liquor store, talking to himself, defensive. Angry, because to him, loitering is inevitable. Cody Braden’s discordant guitar and Alan Lauer’s relentless drumming instill an aggressive atmosphere. It’s all metallic and grating, bad news and no relief: “Nowhere to go so I’m never gonna leave/They sell air here and the water isn’t free/I got no ride I got no ID/When I die I’ll be loitering.”

Later, on “Trick Everybody,” we hear our own, all too familiar imposter voice. Architectural and industrial at first, a quick early change in the groove allows an insidious thought: “Gonna trick everybody into thinking I’m a somebody.” Bell-like guitar squeals fly by like streetlights. It’s beautiful, sly, convincing. “I leave my house/Go for a drive/But nobody knows/I’m not really alive.” The track culminates in a circular mind delusion between guitar and bass, and ends with the tense reminder that sometimes, you’re nobody.

For me, “Baby Go Wah” is the shiny edge to the record. In it, instead of the ironically nasal voice of Eric, Cody Braden steps in, presenting himself as a sweet boy, polished and controlled. The track builds and falls in all the right places, shimmers with perfectly chorused and subtly harmonic guitars and sways with nonchalant drums. Together with the winking croon of Braden’s vocal harmonies, “Baby Go Wah” glimmers with the possibility that Big Bill has only just begun to show us their range. As Braden repeats “Hey baby doll do you cry for us all?/Do you cry for us all?/Do you cry for us all?” and single piano notes build the band to a final swell, “Do you cry for us all?” turns into the lonely, simple refrain of political melancholy.

So yes, weird can be enough. And here, in a city where weird has been stripped of meaning, marketed, and sold back to us, Big Bill reminds us that weirdness is a generative moment. The moment something different happens. What if we follow it?

Big Bill play Hotel Vegas next Friday, December 8th for their album release.

Allanah Maarteen is a musician, writer and artist who tends to take everything other than herself a little too seriously. You can check out her band Imitari, formerly known as Madd Comrades, on Bandcamp and her drawings on instagram @amjaxx.