Disclaimer: I know three of the people in this band and it’s gonna make this whole thing weird. Boon is a four-piece band made up of Brendan Principato, Jesse Paller, Drew Sher, and Andrew Senken. I knew Brendan, Drew, and Jesse from WVAU, a college internet radio station we all worked for. Jesse edited my articles when I wrote for WVAU.org. Bless him for trying, but he still missed a handful of my typos.
Though they’ve always struck me as good people, we haven’t kept in touch and I’m not great friends with any of them. I’m not disclaiming this because I’m rooting for Boon. I root for nearly every band I review because it’d be spiteful and strange not to. Art is hard and painful. I’m disclaiming this because my knowing who these people are will color this review. You should know ahead of time that things are gonna get weird and subjective this time around.
For a long time I didn’t review anything by Boon in order to dodge that particular weirdness and sentimentality. Something about their new album, “All of Us Laughing” calls me to lean into all of it. “All of Us Laughing” feels to me like Boon at their Boon-est because it’s furiously emotional. This is a band that thrives on emotion and goes to sometimes absurd lengths to stoke it. At some point in any Boon album, the music feels so emotional to me that it’s oppressive. Oddly, finding that moment in the album is a big part of the appeal.
A friend told me that as you get older, what you feel can become softer and weaker because it becomes rote. At times, I agree. Happiness, sadness, fear, excitement, every feeling can weaken because of how often they’ve come around. When I listen to Boon, it feels like something awakens. I feel strangely younger and like my emotions become sharp and fresh.
It’s difficult for me to say if any random person might feel the same. On the one hand, the lyrics clearly deal with emotion, and there are clear elements meant to make you feel. There are sweeping waves of feedback that overwhelm you and there are fun, choppy garage rhythms that provoke a lot of nostalgia and excitement. On the other hand, I do know these people enough that the mention of them brings back college, a time myself and others feel keenly and clearly for lots of reasons.
“All of Us Laughing” pushes that emotional dial even further and so I think that the reality I experience listening to the music will at least be close to yours. Cutting away from the schmaltz and into the actual music, “All of Us Laughing” borrows from shoegaze, post-rock, garage, and a grab bag of other influences to make something really curious. The songs are both very pretty and soft but rough around the edges and harshly cut by the way it’s mixed. That’s a contrast I’ve always enjoyed in Boon.
There’s a lot of noise to Boon, whether it’s choppy layers of laughter and background conversations, or whether it’s guitar and piano rhythms interlaced over odd feedback. Drew, Jesse, and Brendan all have a bit of wonkish, audio-tech background and so Boon albums tend to have a lot of unique sound and bluster made surprisingly fluid. All their discordant ideas coalesce well, not a clap or a rattle out of place. A lot of effort went into that balance of sound, including re-recordings, years-long writing processes, some odd amp setups, and raw screams and feedback loops.
However, I feel that obsessiveness over sound hurts them at times. It can be difficult to know what to make of some of their wilder songs. For “All of Us Laughing” that song is “Beetle Room.” At over 15 minutes long, it’s a psychedelic loop that gets more and more psychedelic for how it adds to its jangly rhythm and how Brendan slowly, deliberately sings daunting questions and sentiments. In its own right, “Beetle Room” is good but it drags at points. In the album, I felt it was an odd conclusion that took away from the cohesion.
The album has pretty good cohesion outside of “Beetle Room,” with “Fence” and “Jasmine Seeds” opening on a more light-hearted, if still mid-20’s anxious feeling, then “History” transitioning the album into its more mournful songs, “Dead Dog Dead Cat” and “Kokohome.” It builds pretty well, luring you in with sweeter notes, keeping you there with the bitter pieces, staying cohesive by being consistently bittersweet throughout.
That bittersweet feeling is the main reason to listen to Boon. Now that I’ve listened to “All of Us Laughing” I feel that I can say there’s something really beautiful and really painful about Boon. Beyond myself, my ego, and my own interactions, Boon tugs at sentiments. At times, they pull at something sweet and warm, but at other times they wrench at something that hurts. Boon shines in those moments where the emotion becomes oversaturated, the sound becomes overwhelming, and the whole thing becomes oppressive. I don’t think my experience exaggerates anything all that much. I just think it hurts to listen to Boon in a way that’s genuinely good.