"One must respect democracy despite its imperfections," bellows Bullets or Balloons frontman Chris Henderson in the opening seconds of the band's latest record, Binary Minds.
"What?!" he exclaims in baffled hysteria moments later.
"I tend to be a very sarcastic person," he admits with a chuckle. However, by the last track, "Lil' Creeper," Henderson's sarcasm is MIA. He's pissed. "Refute the lies! Refuse to comply!" he sings-speaks-wails in what would have made an apt soundtrack for the window-smashing anarchists of Inauguration Day in D.C. Written in the days immediately following November's election, it's not hard to hear the song — and the band's third full-length album — as a sucker punch of dissent.
"It's maybe a little bit more direct and obvious than some things that we've written in the past, but captured what I was thinking and feeling at that point in time," says Henderson, 38. "I certainly have some concerns about some things policy-wise and equality-wise and inclusiveness-wise."
Sonically the quasi-local outfit — Henderson (Olympia) on guitar, Aaron Anderberg (Coeur d'Alene) on bass and Cory Phipps (Spokane) on drums — treads some hallowed ground with a tight, dissonant bounce reminiscent of Dischord Records' flagship punks Fugazi and, at times, the churning grooves of the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. Bullets or Balloons, however, has brewed up something distinctly weird with Binary Minds, something slyly melodic and uncategorizable. "I don't think we're a band where you would point to and say, 'Well, they sound like fill-in-the-blank,'" muses Henderson. "I think we have crafted our own sound." He calls it "experimental, prog-y, math-y, punk kind of stuff."
Labels aside, it's impassioned, wry, fast, lean (true to the punk tradition, the longest song on the record is barely two minutes) and turns on a dime. Tweet-sized anthems, in other words, for the postmodern cynic intent on calling it like it is, in the very style of the tweeter-in-chief. There's little ambiguity in a line like "Our collective fates are now hanging on one very loud mouth."
"When you get into punk, hardcore, prog-rock kind of stuff, it is stepping, certainly, away from the norm and mainstream in terms of music and things like that," says Henderson. "There is certainly an aggressiveness to the music that I think lends itself to expressing some strong thoughts and opinions."
It's not all doom-and-gloom, however, as concertgoers will discover Saturday night at the Big Dipper at the band's CD release show. "It's pretty clear to anyone who ever sees us play that we're enjoying ourselves up there, and happy to have the opportunity to do it," says Henderson. "We kind of just let it all fly up there on stage." In other words, it's fun! Sounds like a welcome respite from the pall of despair that has settled like a rancid smog on the American psyche.
"Music gives you a lot of freedom for expression," Henderson argues. "I think in a lot of cases where people feel either disenfranchised or feel like they don't have the opportunity to maybe express things, you know, it's an outlet, an option that we still have." ♦
Bullets or Balloons with Boat Race Weekend and Fun Ladies • Sat, Jan. 28, at 7:30 pm • $6-$8 • All-ages • The Big Dipper • 171 S. Washington • bigdipperevents.com • 863-8098