Who: Leland Brehl (vocals, guitar), Jackson Machado (guitar), Ben Burwell (bass), Asher McKenzie (drums)
For fans of: Tony Molina, Teenage Fanclub, Pinkerton-era Weezer
Sounds like: A lovelorn, ADD-afflicted Robert Pollard soundtracking a Saturday morning cartoon binge.
There ain't much the scruffy young punks who compose Mr. Bones take seriously, least of all their public personas. They have all the lofty ambition and idealistic principles of other burgeoning bands, sure. But rather than attempt to design an overly sincere image, they'd rather fuck with people by using self-invented personas that are always changing to suit what they presently find funny. It's not a pose. It's a gag.
"We're not looking to establish characters. I always wanted it to be confusing, this ambiguous, ridiculous subversion of the Ramones trope," says singer Leland Brehl, aka Lee Bones, aka Away. "I think bands nowadays take themselves as serious as possible, and we do take our music very seriously. Just not ourselves."
What started as a tribute to the Ramones has now evolved into pseudonyms and alter egos that vacillate from one album to the next. When band members recall exploits from a tour or incidents from especially rambunctious basement shows where any or all of them were especially intoxicated, they reference their anti-selves as the perpetrators, as if illicit consumption triggers a Hyde-like transformation that enables a better performance. They consider a musical identity, like the comic-book character they took their name from, to be something of a cartoonish triviality.
Other things the musicians are apathetic about include high-priced gear, overly confessional songwriting and recording studios. As such, they captured the entirety of their hyperconcentrated new record, Bites, in bassist Ben "Bonedaddy" Burwell's basement, and had their drummer, Asher "Sticks" McKenzie, engineer the sessions. The result is an explosive, 23-minute burst of distorted bubblegum pop hooks that still manages to take residence in your skull long after listening. Coupled with matter-of-fact moaning culled from Brehl's' succinct mental diary, Mr. Bones' shucking-and-jiving feels like a collection of all-too-brief instances placed carefully in the context of a foamy ocean of screech and fuzz.
"Based on our personalities, I think people might think we just play dumb rock. It almost makes us more niche," Leland says. "You have to sort of dig to find our sad stuff. Our presentation can be appealing to people who feel alienated. When we play live we're ridiculous—drunk, stoned, laughing our asses off." But Leland confesses that the band's priorities are more sincere than Mr. Bones' ramshackle approach implies. "I've just always wanted to connect to people. I personally don't think it's bad at all."
HEAR IT: Buy Mr. Bones' Bites at mrbonespdx.bandcamp.com.