Constant Stimulation

Bad Sports

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Constant Stimulation Review

by Mark Deming

The problem with most pop-punk is that that the former often compromises the latter; you fold in some hooks and harmonies, and suddenly the band seems hesitant to hit as hard. Bad Sports are one group who have managed to work around this; they know how to pen a catchy melody and have a way with harmonies, but their performances sound consistently muscular and robust, and they seem less interested in the confining frameworks of either pop or punk than in playing rock & roll music that's passionate and engaging. Bad Sports have certainly refined their attack since they released their self-titled debut in 2009, and 2018's Constant Stimulation finds them in especially strong form. On numbers like "Don't Deserve Love" and "All Revved Up to Kill," the trio show off their knack for sturdy tunes and tempos that split the difference between punk and hard rock, and they hit their targets solidly. But they've learned how to add a moody undertow to their music, and "Gains and Losses," "Cardboard Suits," and "Ode to Power" show Bad Sports have been cultivating the serious side of their songwriting, and it's paying off. They also nail the shoegazey drift of "Everything We Wanted," and when they turn up the tempos and go into pogo mode on "Distant Life," they show a confidence and ambition uncommon in the contemporary punk underground. The guitar work from Orville Neeley is powerful and expert without sinking into unwanted flash, and bassist Daniel Fried and drummer Gregory Rutherford are similarly forceful and to the point, knowing when to add color and how hard to hit. Bad Sports have lost a bit of the carefree side of their earliest work (hard to imagine them making an album called Bras now), but they've gained a lot in the way of chops and what to do with them, and Constant Stimulation shows they've gotten smarter and tougher without forgetting how to throw a good hook into their tunes.

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