When writing descriptive prose about a particular kind of music, it's generally not a good practice to reference other music as a means of description. Using Maurice Ravel to describe Philip Glass won't instill an understanding of the latter's work in someone unfamiliar with the stuttering insistence of the former's Bolero. However, when writing about pop music for an alternative weekly aimed at an intelligent, youngish audience, direct description of songs and techniques can come across as pure pedantry. It is, after all, pop music, not a goddamn Beaujolais. And while the argument over what level of scrutiny should be ascribed to something as disposable as pop music rages on in circles of record-store employees (and record-store alumni who write about music for alt weeklies), it is possible and occasionally permissible to get all James Beard over a cheeseburger.
In describing the Edwardsville rock quartet Bibowats, a little of both techniques is necessary. The band's music itself is not overcomplicated per se, but the web of influence from which the band has drawn to concoct its oeuvre is tangled.
The band's music contains aspects of early '90s alt-rock à la Jane's Addiction and Smashing Pumpkins, but it's strangely indie-savvy as well. And just when you think you're hearing the epic Allen Epley-isms of Shiner in Bibowats' guitars, the ghost of AC/DC's Bon Scott materializes in the laryngeal flange of vocalist (and guitarist) Zac Friederich. Then there's the occasional smattering of Beatles-inspired vocal harmony. The fact of this constant neither-here-nor-thereness signifies that Bibowats actually sounds like itself, that it's contributing something relatively new.
"I don't feel like we're trying to be anything," drummer Shae Moseley muses. "We just write, do what we do and most of the time it comes out pretty good, if I don't say so myself."
It's as if Bibowats is summing up rock music as a whole within the context of single songs, getting all of the heads of the rock & roll Hydra to bob in unison. That's high praise in a city where the rock-music diet consists largely of three brown guitar chords and half an octave of screamo vocals, as if these were the very shit of God (and you wonder why St. Louis is considered a hip-hop town?).
Such an environment can be tricky for a band like Bibowats to navigate.
"There's a lot of camps, it seems like," says Moseley. "Barring a few bands that intermingle between camps, it's pretty much set. It seems like you've got your south-side bands that do your dirt rock or rockabilly, then there's the prog rock and emo. I guess the thing that bugs us is that we're not really a part of any of it."
Friederich is quick to add, "Well, it doesn't bother us that we're not part of any camp; it bothers us that it has impaired us from playing places sometimes, because, you know, you don't know this person or that person."
Bibowats has overcome these initial impairments and transcended the stylistic lines of demarcation that many see drawn between St. Louis venues.
"Now that we've been playing more frequently, it's almost cooler that we're not part of any of those groups," says Moseley. "We play at more places than most St. Louis bands, I think. Most St. Louis bands have their two, maybe three, places they play. We hit Lemmons, Frederick's, the Way Out. We play the Rocket Bar, Creepy Crawl, Hi-Pointe. It seems like at most of those places we get a pretty good reception. That kind of makes me feel good, that our music can appeal to people in all of those places."
Friederich actually shares guitar and vocal duties with Josh Evans, a fact that further complicates describing the Bibowats' sound. Whereas Friederich's tenor is a little Pat Benetar (as well as the aforementioned Bon Scott), Evans' voice is more like the progeny of Bono and Afghan Whigs' vocalist Greg Dulli. It all comes out in the wash, and the band's painstakingly democratic approach to songwriting is likely a contributing factor.
"I think all the songs come along pretty slowly," explains Friederich. "We're not a band that turns out a massive amount of songs like some do -- not that that's a bad thing; it kind of depends on who you are. I like it that way. The songs on the new CD were evolving for a really long time."
This is apparent in Bibowats' latest six-song offering, Breakup No. 2. The disc is beautifully mixed and mastered, offering a bright glimpse of what's to come from a band whose live shows already bring the rock in a heavy fashion. Though Moseley began his music career as a guitarist, he beats the crap outta them drums. The percussion lines are fairly straightforward, but Moseley is quick and coordinated, with more than a rudimentary grasp of syncopation and ambidexterity. There with him on the rhythm end of the spectrum lurks dexterous bassist Dave Lowell, whose understated riffs are deployed mostly as subtext in the mix. Breakup No. 2 is cohesive songwriting, great playing and big rock bombast all rolled into one. Despite the hard-to-pin nature of the band, it's a disc that just plain makes sense. It's obvious that Bibowats is not trying to sound like anyone. The band sounds like Bibowats and Bibowats alone. In time it'll pay off. For now the work itself is the reward.
"It's hard for us to draw people anywhere, honestly," says Friederich. "We don't have huge crowds at all. Most of the time we're playing to the other bands and our girlfriends. We would like that to change, but it doesn't bother us, because we'll play. We don't think you can play too much. We're not worried that our crowd will come from this show to that show, because we don't have a crowd. We just want to play as much as we can play."