Seven Fun Facts About Bis!
1. It’s Pronounced To Rhyme With “Kiss”
If Wikipedia is to be believed, the band’s name is an acronym from a The The lyric. This seems extraordinarily obscure to me, particularly since I can’t hear a trace of any The The influence in the music itself, apart from a tendency toward social commentary. I wouldn’t put it past them to invent a different origin for the name at every opportunity, but after all, a name is just a name.
2. They Wrote and Performed the Powerpuff Girls Ending Theme Song
3. They Are Basically Cartoon Characters Themselves
My girlfriend and I got into them at a time when we were starting to get into anime and manga and all things Japanese ourselves, so an adorable Scottish pop-punk band with the same proclivities was perfect for us.
4. We Interviewed Them In Toronto
We drove up with our friend and fellow college radio potentate to meet and interview them after their soundcheck. They were, as you are no doubt tired of hearing, unfailingly nice and lots of fun to talk to. Once again I don’t remember anything we talked about, except that we did try to get them to tell us that “Popstar Kill” was about Morrissey (they would neither confirm or deny this unfounded speculation). Of course we stayed for the concert, which was every bit as much fun as you’d hope and expect.
5. Each Album Seems to Criticize a Trend the Next Album Embraces
More of an opinion based on observation than a fact, but judge for yourself. On The New Transistor Heroes, there’s a whole song slamming 80s throwback poseurs (“Skinny Tie Sensurround”). I’m probably misreading their position, since “Starbright Boy” seems to unironically celebrate 80s pop culture, but whatever the case, Social Dancing comes along next and is so 80s it’s produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, and includes a song (“Action and Drama”) pleading “I’d like my idols human not programmed in computers” (examples given include Madonna, Wham!, and Bananarama) and bemoaning faceless DJ culture. What comes next? Return to Central, which trades in the 80s pop sound for throbbing beats, repetitive grooves, and a picture of a turntablist on the sleeve.
Are they hypocrites? Who cares? If I started counting the number of times I initially resisted something and later fell in love with it, I’d be here all day. And more importantly…
6. All Their Records Are Great
The New Transistor Heroes is a nonstop candy store soundtrack arranged for keyboard, guitar, and skateboards. These three kids yelp their way through adorable but passionate anthems praising positive body image (“Monstarr”), feminism (“X-Defect”), autonomy within relationships (“Photoshop”), and, er, rollerblades (“Rollerblade Zero”), and that’s as boring as I can make it sound. Return to Central‘s occasionally robotic grooves can’t smooth out the spikiness of their spirit and it contains several unmissable tracks including “What You’re Afraid Of” and “We’re Complicated.” Even the EPs are essential; Music for a Stranger World is my favorite, with “Dead Wrestlers” and “How Can We Be Strange” topping the bill. If you like Bis (and I think you either do or you don’t), you’ll want to hear them all. But their middle album might be the easiest entry point:
7. Social Dancing In Particular Is Super Great
It came just two years on from their cartoonish debut, but already the trio seemed more mature — still impassioned, still energetic, but more focused and articulate. It’s solid from start to finish, from “Making People Normal”‘s rage against the homogenized beauty machine to “Listen Up”‘s call for males to join the feminist cause. I particularly like the witty, sarcastic “I’m a Slut,” the thundering “Sale or Return,” and the triumphant “Am I Loud Enough?” Don’t worry, there’s still fun in there, most notably in the form of “Shopaholic,” which is exactly what it says on the tin.
My girlfriend and I enjoyed this album for quite a while, and I’m still happy whenever a song from it comes up in the shuffle. Quite frankly, we needed a little cuteness in our music, particularly the following year when our lives changed in a huge way.
The Auteurs, How I Learned to Love the Bootboys
It’s sad that this is the last Auteurs album — maybe Luke Haines felt the music was getting too mellow and not sinister enough. “The Rubettes,” “1967,” “Some Changes,” and “Future Generation” are all so gorgeous it almost hurts, and “Asti Spumante” is almost hypnotic. Though the other Auteurs records tended to sound third-person, this one’s a little more autobiographical, or at least meta; the lyric from “Some Changes,” “This kid comes up to me, says ‘You’ve gotta raise your game’ / This kid is half my age, ‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Haines,'” is one of his slyest, funniest lines and for once it’s at his own expense. I love this record.
The Creatures, Anima Animus
Every Creatures record is a little bit different. They’ve done minimalist tribal, tiki noir, and whatever Hai! was, but on this one they’re just doing the great lost Banshees record the way Arcadia did the great lost Duran record. “Disconnected” is terrific, “Exterminating Angel” is huge and unstoppably awesome, and “Another Planet” is so divine it makes me want to see the Lost In Space movie whose soundtrack it undoubtedly elevated. Then there’s “Say,” which is the most moving song about suicide (that of Billy Mackenzie of the Associates) I’ve ever heard.
Robyn Hitchcock, Jewels For Sophia
There’s a case to be made that this is the best Robyn Hitchcock record ever. It’s got a little of everything: absurdist gems like “The Cheese Alarm” (about the irresistibility of the titular substance), “Antwoman,” and “NASA Clapping”; shockingly straightforward love songs like “I Feel Beautiful” and “You’ve Got a Sweet Mouth On You, Baby”; an ode to Seattle (“Viva! Sea-tac”); driving rockers like “Sally Was a Legend” and “Elizabeth Jade”; a moving can’t-go-home-again ballad called “No, I Don’t Remember Guildford”; and two bizarre hidden tracks, one of which is called “Mr. Tongs.” The other is “Don’t Talk to Me About Gene Hackman,” which easily lives up to its title — you’ve gotta hear it.
- XTC, Apple Venus vol. 1
- Blur, 13
- Suede, Head Music
- Weird Al Yankovic, Running With Scissors
- Tori Amos, To Venus and Back
- Cocteau Twins, BBC Sessions
- Aimee Mann et al., Magnolia soundtrack