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Lochlainn Heley | May 1, 2022

Bugs first caught my attention in their 2020 Like A Version cover of ‘Charlie’ by Mallrat. It was complex, thoughtful and even disarmingly cheeky with the added line from ‘Send Me On My Way’ by Rusted Root. That performance ended up being one of my favourite covers and had exhibited everything I would come to know of the band’s growth through the rock and punk genres.

In their new album Cooties, the Brisbane trio dive into their sound evolution now combining  surfer-punk music with a powerful pop-umph. The combination creates incredibly catchy songs that use 2000’s pop-punk radio classics (Paramore, Good Charlotte and Motion City Soundtrack) to frame the feelings of toxic masculinity and loneliness that inhabit our twenties.

Cooties is the trio’s third studio album since forming in 2015, and long-time listeners can no doubt pick out the shifts in their music. They’ve moved and developed from their experimental indie identity of their first album (Too Fast For Satan) into a more crisp and tenacious punk-pop sound. This shift is most prominent in their 2019 Self Help album that uses the upbeat pop song structures to create a captivating bounce between songs. The developments in their albums can also be pointed to what Triple Z described as lead singer Connor Brooker’s progression as a writer, and “drummer Brock Weston’s evolution as their recording engineer”.

Bugs
Credit: Nikita Oliver

Individually, each track delves into a specific restless thought. Beginning with ‘Old Youth Feeling’, the band divulges a nostalgic memory using radio-catchy guitar and drums: “Write down a bucket list, try something for taste/ Yeah, find a new frontier, put a smile on your face”. As the album progresses, the energy shifts effortlessly into the emotional depth of ‘Mars and Venus’. Being my personal favourite track, it fleshes out the trio’s ennui of toxic masculinity with a childlike limerick chorus: “If men are from Mars and girls are from Venus / Then I’d be much happier without a penis.” Directly after that, ‘Bridge’ comes forward with a chaotic argument between partners that plays as a thoughtful reflection to ‘Mars and Venus’s internal dilemma.

Together, it speaks to the idea that daily thoughts and feelings are always chaotic yet connected with a single amorphous energy. Brooker confirmed this in an interview with NME when describing the inspiration and development of the album: “Some of the songs are pretty sad, some are full of angst, others unbridled joy. It’s a polarising mix of music because life isn’t as linear as we’d often like it to be”. 

Incidentally, the album also finds itself reflecting the feelings of going through COVID-19 too. But I don’t mean to suggest the album is filled with dread; the smooth transitions between songs of individually chaotic feelings is quite reminiscent of the quick shifts in feelings felt going through the countless lockdowns we’ve had in Melbourne.

But it’s in the music video for ‘Diamond’ where the COVID/Isolation references become clear. The three boys are seen making clowns out of media influencers and social media by jumping between cardboard sets of Instagram-able beaches and a Tiger King red-carpet, even dressing in Halloween costumes of the latter. The video unashamedly pokes fun at vapid self-centred performances (“Shimmer is all just for show”) which distract and obscure authenticity. It’s the kind of farce that reminds me of Twisted Sister’s Looney Toons caricatures of violence from their early ‘80s music videos.

While listeners would likely want some new music to step out of the lingering COVID shadow, it’s in my opinion that the 2000’s lyrical pop-hook and surfer-rock percussion is exactly the kind of frame conducive for gaining a fresh perspective.

Cooties is a groovy standout in Bugs’ discography that leaves listeners seeing their own restless thoughts and feelings become part of a cohesive whole. Upon re-listening, expect head-banging and rocking out to the intrusive thoughts that seem less poisonous than before. I, for one, am very excited to see what they have in store for the years to come. 

Listen to Bugs’ album Cooties below.

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Lochlainn Heley

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