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For all its tongue-in-cheekiness, Bad Moves—the debut self-titled EP of the rising D.C. power-pop quartet, out tomorrow on Don Giovanni Records—is firmly rooted in the real world. Asshole bosses, uncompromising landlords, self-serving businessmen, and frowning doctors; these familiar antagonists are featured as foils to the narrators throughout the album’s telling of a mundane day-to-day life. And while none of these characters explicitly get their comeuppance, Bad Moves’ songwriters—including David Combs (The Max Levine Ensemble, Spoonboy, Somnia), Katie Park (Hemlines), Daoud Tyler-Ameen (Art Sorority for Girls) and Emma Cleveland (Booby Trap)—show that the best revenge is living well and penning infectious pop hooks. Unlike other “supergroups,” the songs of Bad Moves are alive with purpose and collaboration, showing the tremendous potential this group has to break free from the trappings of what audiences may expect from each separately.
On the surface, the album’s themes can be bleak, but not uniformly so. Somewhere embedded in the defeatist refrain for “Shitty Tomorrow”—the EP’s opening track and lead single—is a sense of reluctant opportunity. Sure, “keep on working for a shitty tomorrow,” doesn’t instill a sense of hope for the future, like many young Americans felt this time of year eight years ago, but what’s noteworthy is that the operative word here isn’t “shitty” or “tomorrow,” but “working.” In the context of the lyrical themes throughout the four-song cassette, work sucks, but it’s also the only way up and out.
After “Shitty Tomorrow,” we hear about the emotional toll of moving out of a childhood home in “Drain Me.” Moving boxes filled with items our narrator “should have thrown away” become the physical embodiment of emotional baggage, “heavy with sentiment” and painful to approach. But Bad Moves moves on, as we must. “Get Slow”—the song that most closely resembles an Art Sorority for Girls track, with tight drum beats and melancholy undertones—continue the theme of reluctant acceptance. While the song purports that “being no one isn’t so bad,” anonymity comes with its own emotional challenges, like the frustrating embarrassment of running into an old bully.
In the end, though, despite all these challenges, Bad Moves leaves us on a hopeful note. “I was on the verge of something good, I don’t know,” Park wails on the pre-chorus of “The Verge.” The optimism of “something good” is betrayed a bit by the line’s past tense, but the unrelenting, propulsive hooks of the song combined with the band’s promising future seem to suggest that we’re at least still at that precipice, if not beyond.
Bad Moves will play an EP release show on Sunday at Black Cat with The Afterglows and Bless. 1811 14th St. NW. $10.