Bad Moves' 'Untenable' Makes Today's Fraught Climate Sound Like a Party
Published Jun 24, 2020"We're still having a good time," Bad Moves emphasize in "End of Time," the final song on their second album Untenable. The band had a strong first outing with Tell No One in 2018, an album with youthful vitality that won them opening slots with Jeff Rosenstock and the Hold Steady. That sounds like a good time. But the notable word in that lyric is "still," because it doesn't mean "then as now," but rather "nevertheless." It's essentially an abbreviation for "…even though everything sucks." It's a jaunty power-pop song, full of youthful spunk, Beach Boys 'woo-oo's, summer camp chants and a happy-go-lucky rhythm. It's a song for having a good time that's about having a good time — despite feeling like you shouldn't be.
That's what ties everything together throughout Untenable, a boisterously incisive record by the group from Washington, D.C. The band fits alongside melody-driven, community-minded punk acts like RVIVR and the Measure (SA), with the unfussy, straight-to-the-point approach of Ramones-core. Tune out completely from what they're saying, and you'll be bopping along in no time. It's good, clean fun that comes about in a very grassroots, likeable way. There's an immediate, undeniable youthfulness to it; Bad Moves sound like innocent kids having a blast.
But make no mistake: This is a record with layers of sociopolitical awareness that rarely fit so neatly into catchy songs. The title Untenable refers to the imbalance and instability of global capitalism and worker exploitation; it appears in the song "Working for Free," a song that condemns the insecurity of tipped wages in the service industry. ("This precarious wager / The structural danger / The uncertain nature / The conscious erasure / That's not a bug, that's a feature.") The album touches on fears of climate change and nuclear war and the pernicious effects of social media and doomscrolling, documenting a long list of anxieties both personal and big-picture amid a world in perpetual crisis. Lead single "Party with the Kids Who Wanna Party with You" emphasizes the band's belief in coming together to tackle matters including materialism, social siloing and the corporatization of identity. These are party anthems for the anticapitalists, the Gen Z activists and the beaten-down masses.
"Who bites the hand when the hand feeds you? / You've got to open your eyes to all the ways that they bleed you / While dividing your life into cheap little pieces," they sing in "Local Radio," an outrageously fun song that sums up the band's MO. Vocal duties are handled communally, with the four members of the band — Emma Cleveland, David Combs, Katie Park and Daoud Tyler-Ameen — passing the mic off to one another and backing each other up with chants, hollers and harmonies. The guitars and vocals work in call-and-response fashion while the punchy rhythm section keeps everything moving briskly.
These are songs that were written a year ago but sound like they could have been written yesterday. That's because it's an album about everything being totally fucked, and that's even more true now than it was a year ago. And yet there's so much joy to be found throughout Untenable. "Toward Crescent Park" is perfect summer power-pop. "Night Terrors" sounds like a house party in full swing, despite its anxious chorus: "We're sleeping with the light on / Willing the dark to pass."
Bad Moves' Untenable is an album about fighting a never-ending battle and feeling like you could maybe even win it — maybe. "We're still having a good time," they sing in unison. "Maybe this all ends up fine … or maybe it's the end of time." (Don Giovanni)