Boyracer – On a Promise

Boyracer’s Stewart Anderson long ago perfected a specific strain of breathless, verge-of-falling-apart yet insidiously hooky twee punk. The relentlessly DIY guitarist has churned out an insane number of releases since the mid ’90s with a vast array of bandmates and labels, often on his own imprint in recent years. Arguably Boyracer’s closest shot at wider notice came with 1996’s shoegazey In Full Colour, the product of a brief, disastrous stop on a major label subsidiary that for a time left promo CDs populating used bins nationwide.

Although Anderson’s vibe is unmistakably British he’s lived stateside for the past two decades – mostly in Flagstaff, Arizona with longtime drummer and recently estranged romantic partner Jen Turrell (who appears on the album but Wikipedia now lists as a former member). While it’s difficult to pinpoint an actual slump, recent outings like a pair of covers albums begged the question of whether Boyracer had exhausted its runway to add meaningfully to an already robust catalog.

That’s what makes On a Promise so refreshing. Without altering the equation that much, Anderson has added enough twists to breathe new life into his lo-fi beast. By slowing the tempos just an iota, for the first time his melodies bring to mind the pop smarts of the late, great Pete Shelley. The addition of trumpet on a handful of tracks like “Hit and Miss” brings a welcome new texture without sounding slick in the slightest.

But the not-so-secret weapon is new member Christina Riley, another expatriate and veteran of simpatico fuzz pop bands Artsick and Burnt Palms, who Anderson credit with fleshing out much of the new material. More importantly, her harmonies mesh so well with Stewart’s voice that it’s a mystery why he hadn’t tried the maneuver earlier. After all, Anderson longs to sing like a “Girl in a Soul Band” on one of the standout tracks – now he’s got his proxy.

Anderson doesn’t obsess over lost carefree youth but doesn’t ignore it either, making numerous references to office labor, the “regular 9 to 5 stuff” that leaves you feeling “punched in the kidneys.” There are apparent breakup nods, both wistful (the organ drenched “So Long”) and recriminatory (“Entitled”). Then there’s “Looks,” which at 3:46 and with actual guitar breaks feels like a Boyracer epic. If not for a gloriously propulsive buzzing bassline it could slot onto a playlist of ’80s gems between Squeeze and Wreckless Eric.

Old-school fans often associate Boyracer with the Sarah Records cult, but instead I hear strains of the two albums from Atlanta’s much missed Gold-Bears. I also hear one of the most pleasant surprises of 2020.

On a Promise
[Emotional Response]