The Tulsa-based band was at their best this past Thursday while opening for Father John Misty.
Hometown heroes BRONCHO have a reputation for being hard to sing along to. Not because their melodies are bad or their songs are not catchy enough, but because frontman Ryan Lindsey is hard to understand, with his live vocals even more inaccessible than the studio recordings. The intelligibility of his lyrics seemed to have been on a decline starting with mostly-understandable catchy punk-rock on their first record, “Can’t Get Past The Lips” (2011), an extremely catchy poppier turn on 2014’s effort “Just Enough Hip To Be Woman,” and a full devolution to dreamy shoegaze mumbling on their 2016 release, “Double Fantasy.”
Their second was my favorite record up until last Friday, when it was supplanted by the release of “Bad Behavior” through Park the Van Records. After returning from their European arena tour in support of Queens of the Stone Age, Norman, Oklahoma-transplants BRONCHO have been laying low in their West Tulsa warehouse/studio/clubhouse.
In 2017, the band released a taste of what they had been working on: a new single titled “Get In My Car.” In some ways, it was classic BRONCHO, but it also felt like it was pushing toward a new sound. It would be another year before another release: “Sandman/Boys Got To Go,” a double single released as a long-form narrative music video. With this single, they announced that their new album would be released October 12, 2018.
On the eve of the album’s release, I saw them open for Father John Misty in Oklahoma City. Though Lindsey’s vocals are eccentric, he still puts on a great show. The first five songs of BRONCHO’s set were also the first five songs off the new LP. After diverting to some earlier and more familiar material (including their 2014 hit “Class Historian”), they played two more songs off “Bad Behavior.”
The next morning, it was available on Spotify, and my drive back to Tulsa was the perfect opportunity to soak it in. The first thing I noticed was the overall clarity compared to their earlier records. Not only could I understand the words to album-opener “All Choked Up,” but it seemed as if Lindsey’s voice was more full and less sleepy. Bassist Penny Pitchlynn’s grooves really drive each song and sit perfectly in the mix.
The mixes in general are less cluttered than 2016’s “Double Fantasy,” and it feels as if they are shedding their shoegaze punk roots and moving toward a more accessible pop-rock sound. An important example of this is lead guitarist Ben King’s contributions. He shines specifically on “Sandman,” where his riffs and lead lines are played with a surprisingly clean guitar tone and become highlights of the song. Nathan Price’s drumming is in the pocket and follow Lindsey’s vocals with impressive precision, as heard in album highlight “Big City Boys.”
Though I did not like “Get In My Car” at the time of its release in 2017, after hearing it in the context of the record in sequence, it is one of my favorite BRONCHO songs. It is extremely catchy. King’s clean lead guitar playing could evoke comparisons to Canada-based Peach Pit, and Lindsey’s vocals are clear and able to be sung along to.
This seems to be the case for the majority of the album. You can sing along to it, the production and arrangement is more accessible than previous records and the album-only tracks, such as “Family Values,” are just as good as the singles. With the release of “Bad Behavior,” I anticipate that BRONCHO will soon outgrow their headquarters in West Tulsa and be on their own headlining tour before too long.
On a scale of one-to-five Grammys, with one Grammy being the best and five Grammys being the worst, I give this album one-and-a-half Grammys. BRONCHO’s new sound is exactly where they need to be to find more success, though I still have nothing but love and appreciation for their older material, released before they become a household name.