Bolonium’s newest album, Leftovers, is unlike any full-length that this Denver band has released before. For many music groups, the pandemic provided time to reboot, reflect and use refreshed creative juices to build a new album. But making this particular LP wasn't that simple.
Bolonium — which comprises founding members Richard Taylor (accordion, vocals) and Tim Johnson (guitar), as well as Bonnie Finley (drums) and Logan Rainard (bass) — was supposed to play a show at the hi-dive on March 16, 2020. It was the day that Denver shut down, thanks to COVID. "I was driving back home to Telluride and feeling kind of defeated," Johnson remembers. "I must have been driving my car too fast or something, because when I parked at my apartment, my car burst into flames."
The fire burned Johnson's laptop, which contained a majority of the songs that the band was working on for another album, Full of It.
"It was the strangest thing that happened in my life," he continues. "We ended up starting anew and finished our previous album. After that, we picked up the pieces of mix-downs and the snippets of the remains of that previous album that all burned. And we didn't really know what to do with it, so we sent it to our friends to see what they could do with these tracks, and that ended up turning into this whole collaborative album."
Over twenty musicians, including more than a dozen from Denver, are included on Leftovers, which gives it a very different flavor than Bolonium's previous albums. "This is the first time we've collaborated with other artists," Taylor says. "We were so discouraged by the fire — that we lost all these songs and we just didn't know how to finish them — so we really needed the support of our friends and their musical talent to finish these songs we had already started. Without them, I don't think this album would exist.”
Denver's Pretty.Loud is included on several tracks, including "Worthless," a cover of a song from The Brave Little Toaster; locals Anthony Kapfer, a comedian and musician, and Nikki Giron, a jazz singer and saxophonist, contribute to that track, too. Giron can also be heard singing on "Ketchup."
"Felix Fast4ward is also such a top-notch musician in Denver, and we were so excited he was even willing to join us for the album," Johnson says of "Ketchup."
"The title track is featuring Dylan Mars Greenberg and Matt Ellin from Theophobia, a glam-rock band from New York City," Taylor adds. "Those guys are great, and they're getting a lot of press right now, so it's exciting for them to be on an album with us.”
Taylor and Johnson, both Colorado natives, started Bolonium ten years ago after becoming fast friends in film school. The act's curious moniker "is a reference in The Simpsons and Futurama, and dates back to this B-movie called Big Meat Eater, where these aliens are trying to get back to their home planet and they need 'bolonium' to fuel their spaceship," Johnson explains.
"The first song we ever made was back in 2012, for a film we were working on," he recalls. "We collaborated on a bunch of films before we ever started making music. We realized that music is a lot easier to make than feature films, so we kind of committed to that direction."
"We still make films," Taylor adds, "but making music is a little easier, and we found we could dish out music quicker and make music videos quicker than we could write a feature film. But ten years, really?"
During that decade, Taylor and Johnson formed the connections and friendships that made Leftovers possible. The album is a must-listen for those with an affinity for bubbly compositions supplemented with rock, indie and new-wave sounds reminiscent of the iconic Animal Collective.
"We self-produce all the stuff we do, which gives it a lo-fi quality," Johnson says. "We're still learning, I wouldn't say we're wholly professional, but we're putting it all together ourselves, and we like how it sounds, and we like the do-it-yourself attitude that comes along through our music.”
On its website, the band describes its sound as blending "bass-heavy new wave rhythms, tight accordion riffs, spastic guitar and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Bolonium’s sound would not be out of place as the soundtrack to a Saturday morning cartoon, an ’80s aerobics video, or in a heavy metal club.”
Bolonium's songs certainly fit the goofy and flippant aesthetic of Nickelodeon's early-’90s heyday, with absurd, playful lyrics similar to those of rockers Ween or satirist Weird Al; Taylor acknowledges both as an inspiration. Moreover, Leftovers showcases the talented band's ability to pound a wide variety of genres into not just an album, but a singular track, while still somehow sounding cohesive.
"We have adult ADD," Taylor says, "so I can't stick to one style of music."
"We're kind of hyper, anxious people, so we've always loved fast, dancey-type music," Johnson adds. "I think that has kind of gone into our sound and influences our sound."
The eleven songs are wildly different, though they have a surprising level of continuity. "Eggshells" comes across much like a silly polka sea chanty, "Underwater Level" carries a more muted yet plucky tone layered with robotic vocals, and the titular track carries more heavy rock sonics with a tantalizing guitar solo. With so many collaborators, the album became a tour de force for the whimsical group, despite its ashy origins.
"Since we lost a lot of the album and didn't have expectations for it, we were able to be a bit looser with the creative process," Johnson says. "Previous albums have been more about the band...and making songs that we could play live. We threw that out the window this time, and decided to just make songs using whatever means that we have.
"That's going to make it a challenge to play these live, but I think that's what's next: learning how to reinterpret these in a live setting. Because we didn't write these with the expectation to play them live — a lot of the writing happened during the pandemic, when everything was uncertain," he continues. "It was actually very creatively freeing to just make songs on a whim and send them to other people.”
In keeping with its DIY sound, Bolonium often plays DIY shows, such as the upcoming opening reception for Chant Cooperative's Future Place exhibit on Friday, March 4. You can also celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a Bolonium performance when the act opens for the Stubby Shillelaghs at the Moxi Theater on Friday, March 18.
"It's really just turned into such a miracle that this album even got done," Johnson muses. "All these people really brought their A-game and really improved all the ideas that we had. We're really humbled by the amount of skill and talent that's in Denver and to be friends with all these people who were willing to support us."
Leftovers can now be streamed on Bandcamp and all major platforms. Bolonium plays at 7 p.m. Friday, March 4, at Chant Cooperative's members-only opening reception for Future Place, 853 Santa Fe Drive, and will open for the Stubby Shillelaghs on Friday, March 18, at the Moxi Theater, 809 9th Street, Greeley. Tickets are $15-$100.