So, while I’d completely stopped paying attention, Bis came out with a new album. Crazy, huh?
Starting out playing mostly weird and over-the-top pop punk, often satirizing punk’s obsession with rooting out the phonies (seriously, the only genre of music more self conscious about rooting out phonies than punk is probably rap), they release a bunch of hard to find singles and EPs, culminating with their most successful release to date, their debut album “The New Transistor Heroes”. Despite reaching international fame with the PowerPuff Girls theme song, Bis abandoned their cartoonish anime-inspired personae, opting for a more mature pop look and sound for their second album. The snarkiness and clever commentary was still there, but most of the punk edge was not. That’s not to say it was a bad album, it wasn’t. It was the first Bis cd I got, like many people, after looking up who did the PowerPuff Girls end song. And the further back I was able to dig into their catalogue, the more I liked Bis.
I was pretty stoked when I heard they were following up Social Dancing. I was less stoked when I actually heard the Music for a Stranger World EP, which was entirely electronic pop. I never bothered to get their third album. Apparently a lot of folks preferred the old cartoon punk-rock anime super heroes to the electronic Bis, because they were never as successful as when they were fighting the DIY Corp as the New Transistor Heroes, and they called it quits shortly after went to college.
So now, after an extended hiatus broken by a few reunion shows here and there, Bis got back together and recorded and released a new album, Data Panik Etcetera. While there are still a lot of electronic elements incorporated in the instrumentation, it comes across more as electro-punk and dance-punk than pure pop or pure electronic pop. Bis sounds in many place here more like a pop-punk band that figured out how to use sequencers and synths than a band that rapidly switched genres. Of course, there are still a few solidly electro-beat tracks here, but it’s not as uneven as something like Moby’s Animal Rights (still a fantastic album). It is certainly the post-punk to their early punk. While it’s not one of those “best album evers” or even a “best comeback ever”, it would not be a stretch to call Data Panik Etcetera Bis’ second best non-compilation album (cuz if you consider Intendo an album, that’s still number two). If this had been Bis’s 3rd album and they had never released Music for a Stranger World, I’d’ve probably spent a lot more of the last 11 years listening to Bis, even if my fan-crush on Manda Rin did eventually abate.
As a final note, while it’s hard to say, Minimum Wage sounds almost more like an indictment of lazy youth than a clamor for a higher wage. But I’ll be the first to admit that punk has always been hella confused about social messaging. “I’m an Anarchist and I demand an all powerful State!” (At least the punk band I played in stayed focused on murder and guts… our most nuanced socio-political song was a little sludgy ditty called “Fuck Religion”)
NME is hosting the album for streaming and it can be listened to here:
Note: The stylistic gulf between New Transistor Heroes and Music for a Stranger World is on par with gulf between Unknown Pleasures and Republic.
Update: Turns out that Data Panik Etcetera is comprised of a mish-mash of old tracks by their post-bis project Data Panik as well as tracks that had been composed for an aborted 4th bis album. This could very well explain some of its uneven nature. Still, it seems like they have intention of staying around and making a real come-back of it this time. And I can also appreciate their self-awareness:
“Albums “The New Transistor Heroes” (Under-fi pop/punk songs with twitches into disco, hip-hop and synth-pop), “Social Dancing” (Glossy electro-pop that somehow failed to take the world by storm) and “Return To Central” (An expansive rebirth, taking in Eno, Moroder and Can like a bunch of hipsters – sales negligible) showcased the over-development of their creators, always keen to move onto the next project.” – from bisnation.com