Where The Bombpops had a Fear of Missing Out on their 2017 debut full-length, their highly anticipated follow up shows what happens when you’re too involved—with booze, bad situations, and behavior that’s unsustainable at best and destructive at worst.This is Death in Venice Beach (Fat Wreck Chords, March 13th), the comedown after the high, when clarity pierces the morning-after haze.
It’s right there in the title, an allusion to Thomas Mann’s celebrated novella about the price of an artistic life. The Bombpops co-founder and singer-guitarist Jen Razavi read it as the band debated titles for their second full-length. “It’s a cautionary tale to those that want to become an artist,” she says, “but it’s also really comforting to artists who can’t help or necessarily contain being who they are and what they’re drawn to.”What draws The Bombpops hasn’t changed: highly melodic punk with big guitars, vocal harmonies, and the SoCal sound that inspired Razavi, co-founder and singer-guitarist Poli van Dam, bassist Neil Wayne, and drummer Josh Lewis. But the more light-hearted skate punk of Fear of Missing Out has a serrated edge on Death in Venice Beach, as Razavi and van Dam explore darker themes—even though the songs are catchier than ever. “I want people to feel this dark, uneasy feeling,” says van Dam, who had plenty of her own in the three years since FOMO. She suffered a potentially life-threatening diabetic seizure on tour in the fall of 2018 (referenced in “Double Arrows Down,” one of album’s standout tracks), and she sought treatment for alcoholism while the new album was in post-production.
“I went to rehab right when we were finalizing the mixes and stuff,” van Dam says, “and so listening back to the songs when I was in rehab, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, I was going through some stuff without even realizing how dark everything was and how shitty of a place I was in.”
Listeners can hear about her being “high as hell and drunk as fuck” in “13 Stories Down” and the “drunken altercations” she references in “Can’t Come Clean.”
The personal mixes with the metaphysical in lead single “Notre Dame.” The fire at the famed 700-year-old cathedral prompted self-reflection in Razavi, who was inspired by its centuries-long history. “I’ve always thought when you meet somebody that you like, or even a friend, it’s not the first time,” she says. “I say, ‘I’ve known you before. We were here before.’”
As much as their personal lives shaped Death in Venice Beach, the band’s hometown of Los Angeles—and its art—is perhaps their biggest muse. Razavi devoured all manner of Angeleno culture while writing the album, from books like those in James Ellroy’s L.A. quartet and John Fante’s Ask the Dust to films like True Romance, Mulholland Drive, Falling Down, and Natural Born Killers, lines from which appear in “Blood Pact.”
“Death in Venice Beach is a love letter to Los Angeles, but it’s a love letter to the dark side of Los Angeles,” Razavi says.
It’s not all darkness, though. Listeners are treated to a comical snippet of one of The Bombpops’ intraband arguments at the beginning of “Can’t Come Clean,” and “House on Fire” begins with a piano-led singalong at Fat Mike’s Six Floggs Abusement Park studio. Even the album’s darkest moments are laced with van Dam and Razavi’s wit, like when van Dam sings, “I’m not an alcoholic, I just play one on the weekends” in “13 Stories Down.”
The album’s themes and sounds were captured with maximum nuance by a production team consisting of Yotam Ben Horin (Useless ID), Fat Mike (NOFX), and Chris Fogal (The Gamits), who also recorded Fear of Missing Out.