BODEGA’s new album was inspired by a book club. In the early months of 2020, the Brooklyn art-punk incendiaries gathered together with close friends to study the works of a wide range of philosophers. Passionate debates lasting long into the night became a regular occurrence, motivating the band to become as ideologically unified as the weighty tomes they were reading. Broken Equipment is BODEGA’s attempt to interrogate the external factors that make them who they are, propelling existential quandaries with tongue-in-cheek humour, highly personal lyrics, and irresistible grooves.
In the album’s opening moments, vocalist Nikki Belfiglio urges listeners to “watch the thrown.” She is joined by fellow founding member Bodega Ben, who details various ways his personality is constantly influenced, or “thrown”, by phenomena such as “big rock ads” or ‘“the itch on my back.” This opening song (“Thrown”) serves as a thesis statement for the record’s multi-faceted exploration of how ideology and identity are shaped, but never fixed.
Since BODEGA’s formation in 2016, Ben and Nikki (who previously played together in the band BODEGA BAY) have experienced a rare meteoric rise. The duo double as filmmakers, earning acclaim for their 2020 erotic drama PVT Chat starring Peter Vack, Julia Fox, and other recognizable faces from the Safdie brothers’ cinematic universe. When the pandemic forced them to hit pause, they used the opportunity to regroup with drummer/performance artist Tai Lee, bassist/philosophy professor Adam See, and lead guitarist Dan Ryan. Broken Equipment was produced by Ben himself with Bobby Lewis, BODEGA’s NYC live sound mixer. The record was mixed by Bryce Goggin, whom the band sought out for his work with Pavement, and Adam Sachs (WIVES).
“In 2018 we found ourselves being lumped in with the third or fourth wave post-punk revival,” says Ben with a laugh. “Obviously we love that kind of music and draw inspiration from it on purpose, but this time we wanted to expand our palette with influences from hip-hop, indie-pop, and straight up classic rock. Millennials like us don’t really have genre alliances. We have allegiances towards groups and songs. Nikki and I also tried to sing more, because any time you have a melody to sing it’s much more joyful.”
The album’s 12 songs are set in present day New York City, packing in references to contemporary issues of algorithmic targeting, media gentrification, and the band itself. On “NYC (disambiguation)”, they break down how the Big Apple was “founded by a corporation” and history remains alive in the present. Self-help books and vlogs became the inspiration for first single “Doers”, taking on the toxic side of forced productivity and slyly poking fun at Daft Punk with the mantra “bitter, harder, fatter, stressed out.” The poetic “Pillar on the Bridge of You” is the first love song Ben ever wrote for Nikki, while “All Past Lovers” gazes back to the “southern belle” and “chat room suitor” who still live inside him today.
To accompany the propulsive pace of “Statuette on the Console” and its lyrics about switching perspectives, Nikki recorded alternate versions in eight different languages. “I used God in that song as this arch overlord character, but it could also be a real estate developer,” she explains. “It’s about anyone who puts their reality on your back and forces you to carry it around.” In that song, Nikki also wryly states that although she doesn’t have faith in this particular “God,” she is still “living life with (my) platitudes.” On “Territorial Call of the Female,” Nikki playfully quips that “when the man is around that’s when I’m putting you down,” highlighting how in the past she unknowingly reinforced patriarchal values by turning against other women to attract men. It’s moments like these where BODEGA most exemplifies their self-professed motto that “the best critique is self critique.”
As the band’s art director, Nikki commissioned the sculpture featured on the cover of Broken Equipment as a companion to the cover of their debut, Endless Scroll. “They’re in the same world,” she explains. “The Endless Scroll sculpture was kind of shaped like a computer but also a gavel that a judge would have. That album was about how we do not yet know in the information age what technology is doing to our brains. It was almost on the precipice of a judgement. Now, with the pointing finger machine on the cover of Broken Equipment, I wanted to convey the sense in which social media and Web 2.0 turn people who would otherwise be allies against each other.”
Ben delves the deepest into his personal life with Broken Equipment’s heartrending closer, “After Jane.” Set to a lulling acoustic melody, the song’s lyrics are an intimate conversation with his mother, who passed away several weeks before BODEGA recorded their 2018 debut. While she struggled with addiction and occasionally forgot her son’s name, Ben still offers praise to the “sceptical soul” that inspires him to remain eternally inquisitive.
“That song is about realizing which parts of her are in me,” he says. “As a performer, I’m kind of a raw nerve onstage, and that comes from my mom. She was a punk in her own way, talking shit non-stop. That often comes from a place of pain, but my desire to always speak truth to power comes from her, too.”
– Jesse Locke