Middle Tennessee is full of bands that spend years trying to accomplish locally what the Murfreesboro band How I Became the Bomb have already achieved. Since forming in February of last year, the group already have the kind of draw most local bands work years to attract. Their elder scenesters have quickly ushered them in at the more difficult-to-book venues. And, after a mere six months of writing material, they already have a handful of songs infused with synth-heavy, robotic pop majesty. The kind of songs that keep the crowds showing up, and more importantly, dancing. And they’ve only played 15 shows.
How I Became the Bomb are five guys who look like rumpled math majors: Jon Burr on lead vocals, Denis Deck on guitar, Adam Richardson on keys, Jack Hughey on bass and Andy Spore on drums. Unable to choose a name, they let a friend from their fellow ’Boro band Velcro Stars name them at the last minute before they took the stage for their first show. They cite influences like ELO, Bach and video game music composer Nobuo Uematsu. The band’s keyboard player is a classically trained pianist who doesn’t even listen to pop music.
And yet, the material on their new EP, Let’s Go!, sounds like a distillation of music made by listeners raised on ’80s college radio. It sounds futuristic, but from the past. It’s upbeat and melancholy, bright and dark and filled with pre-adolescent romance with a hint of the torturous hormonal onset to come. It’s also quirky, documenting the troubles of military men, robots and overweight women. In short, it’s what’s welcome in the recent resurgence of ’80s new wave music.
Take a track like “Killing Machine,” which begins with a simple keyboard part that alternates wistfully between minor and major chords. The rhythm section trots out a sturdy, contented bassline, and off it goes with the drums keeping it steady, the keyboards hitting those minor chords on the downbeat. It’s the perfect build-up for a glib, insubstantial pop song; instead, the speaker takes us inside an army man’s inner turmoil.
“The army has taught me a lot about life / I know now that everything will always be right / With everybody’s notions of what I am,” Burr begins. His voice is an oddity in itself, occasionally wincing through octave leaps, but unmistakable, and residing somewhere between Buddy Holly and David Byrne. “’Cause they don’t know / And they don’t say / That I am / A man / Yes I am / I’m a one-man / Killing machine,” Burr declares, as the synthesizers burst into an outer-space reverie.
Tracks like “Robo” are whirring and futuristic, full of bleeps and falsetto, while “Fat Girls Talkin’ ’Bout Cardio” has an opening riff akin to the Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink” with self-explanatory subject matter.
But the standout track of the seven on the EP is “Secret Identity,” with its larger theme of espionage and betrayal. The song hinges on the hooky repetition of a marching stomp-beat and accented guitar burst, layered with a galloping machine-like pulse and a surf guitar riff. The vocals build slowly over the repeated lines, “This secret identity / Is killing me / It’s killing me,” until everything stops for a brief pause before exploding into a dizzying culmination of all the elements.
Like a more seasoned band would, How I Became the Bomb choose this song to close their shows because it’s so danceable and because fans seem to know all the words. It’s a rare thing to have inspired this kind of loyalty among locals right out of the gate, even though the band see their current success merely as luck. So it’s fitting they play a pre-CD release “Secret Identity” masquerade show at The Basement on April Fool’s Day. Five bucks and a mask will you get you not only a copy of their EP, but also a look at the latest wave you’ve been craving.