Wolves of Want
Reviewed by Max Miller
Boston’s Bent Shapes are known for their sprightly take on angular pop-punk, fueled by jittery rhythms and frontman Ben Potrykus’ loquacious vocals. “Behead Yourself, Pt. 2,” the opener on their 2013 debut, Feels Weird, was a self-aware appraisal of the absurdity of trying to make it in an underground rock band, and sounded like Vampire Weekend on crank. Their sophomore LP, Wolves of Want, is rarely any less self-conscious or hectic.
Opener “New Starts In Old Dominion” finds Bent Shapes chugging along at their usual pace, with Potrykus weaving a tale of moving into a new apartment while bassist Jenny Mudarri provides a bouncy bassline and vocal harmonies that push the pop half of their pop-punk formula into new stratospheres. The band fakes an ending before the song comes storming back with a coda replete with trumpets and trombones. Wolves of Want was produced by Elio DeLuca of Titus Andronicus, so it’s no surprise that the record can be practically Springsteen-ian in its anthemic ambitions.
The record keeps on truckin’ at about that same pace until “USA vs POR” brings a mid-tempo respite with some of Potrykus and Mudarri’s most immaculate harmonies, only to be interrupted by a comical spoken-word monologue inspired by Guy Debord’s situationist theories, which ends with, “We’ve been offered the choice between love or a garbage disposal unit, and damned if we don’t choose that garbage disposal unit every time.” This grim outlook is expanded upon on “Realization Hits,” where Potrykus sings, “We are only human beings, taught to want what we all want: The chance to monetize the things we love; reduce a passion to a job.” The song, which is otherwise your run-of-the-mill surf-rocker, is saved by being infinitely quotable—potentially Potrykus’ greatest lyrical achievement on the whole album.
That might be a downside in disguise, though. For all its bravado and lofty aspirations, Wolves of Want can feel a little stale overall. Potrykus and co. might have overplayed their hands a little, because after a while, each two- or three-minute burst of chiming guitars, madcap snare hits and pop-tastic harmonies starts to blur into one unending fever dream. The album doesn’t even reach the thirty-minute mark, and while I’m normally a huge proponent of conciseness, it feels almost as if Bent Shapes could have benefitted from fleshing out their sound in a few more directions.
On the Germs-indebted “What We Do Is Public,” Potrykus rails against social media’s reduction of friendship and connection to “nothing special…nothing personal…just another pic on my wall.” It’s a legitimate topic which should be a source of concern for folks of our generation. But one side-effect of this condensed way we approach social interaction is that we now consume art and culture in a similar way—sifting through endless Bandcamp and Soundcloud profiles, listening to songs for 30 seconds in the hopes of finding that spark that made us voracious music fans in the first place. For the most part, this is probably harmful. We haven’t just chosen the garbage disposal: we’ve become it. But the upside to being incredibly demanding is that when we do find something that can hold our attention span for longer than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn, we hold it close and treasure it. Bent Shapes, regrettably and maybe predictably, just don’t fall on the right side of the system they criticize.