“There is no breakthrough without breakdown.”
These are the words that rattle through my head the first time I listen to Bob Ross Mob Boss’s new EP. Everything’s Chrome in the Future is just so frenetic. There’s so much going on, with loose Nirvana basslines hitching to mathy Modest Mouse guitar and Aaron Mylungs’s long, chesty Scott Weiland vocals stretching out while Bray Fischer chimes in morosely. It’s so hectic that you forget just how necessary it all is.
The line barging into my thoughts comes from a Mindy Nettifee poem, which shares no resemblance to the new Bob Ross Mob Boss EP. Nettifee’s poem is one of absolution, one that rectifies a lifetime of contempt with four stanzas of affirmation. But Everything’s Chrome in the Future offers little in the way of forgiveness: It’s a tribute to the power of self-loathing. Across its six songs, Mylungs and Fischer suffer through brutal realization after brutal realization. So why are these worlds converging in my mind?
“We’re always on this quest to figure out what on earth we’re even doing,” Fischer says. “Someone once tweeted at us that we’re like if a hardcore band and a new wave band got together, which, like, yeah.”
With a name like Bob Ross Mob Boss and an EP title borrowed from an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Fischer and Mylungs obviously have a sense of humor about what they’re doing. They almost called the record Wet Hot American Bummer, but worried that would make them sound like too much of a parody.
“I don’t enjoy interacting with bands that take themselves too seriously,” Fischer says. To them, the music is dark enough without the whole band having to live the darkness like a brand. “The music is abrasive sonically,” Mylungs adds, “but we don’t want to turn people away with the message.”
Humor is Bob Ross Mob Boss’s principal defense mechanism. On Twitter, they fling sardonic self-owns and halfhearted gig promo, in keeping with the spirit of BoJackian nihilism that springs at you on songs like “Never Meant to Live”: “And I know that I don’t wanna die/But I don’t know why/And I know that I wanna stay alive/But sometimes I don’t try.”
These are the words that erase Nettifee’s from my mind. They erase everything, leaving me disoriented, pawing for something else to think, something more hopeful and less true. Only two songs into the EP, they’ve arrived at a spectacular breakdown, and I am there with them.
Fischer and Mylungs met at a Northfield bar in 2017. Fischer was attending St. Olaf, and Mylungs was a self-described “townie.” One karaoke night, they both put in for the Strokes’ “Someday,” and the DJ called Fischer before Mylungs got their chance to tear through it. Mylungs jokingly confronted Fischer, and the two laughed it off over a beer.
“We were both in two different bands at the time, and we were playing shows with each other, and they both broke up at the same time,” Mylungs remembers. “We were looking to fill a void in each others’ lives.”
Fischer and Mylungs moved into a house in St. Paul and started writing songs together. Their tastes immediately clashed. Fischer had a jones for ennui and R.E.M.; Mylungs never understood Michael Stipe. Mylungs experienced ska at a formative age and preferred snotty pop-punk, while Fischer was too busy listening to Dr. Dog to skank dance at Warped Tour.
But both were outcasts growing up, gender-fluid misfits struggling with depression and dysphoria. This shared experience made writing lyrics easier. Every song on Everything’s Chrome in the Future was written by the two together, including “I’m Okay (I Promise),” the truest expression of their common darkness—and how they conquer it.
The song title is a nose-thumb to My Chemical Romance, and damn if that isn’t just perfect Bob Ross Mob Boss. This is a band that was nearly named Pfft singing the words, “My depression is no desert of the soul/It’s the softly falling snow settling in the trees.” Press your ear to the chest of this record and you can hear its heart beating through layers of calcified sarcasm.
“A lot of this music is therapy,” Fischer says. “The concept of dissociation, even dysphoria, it’s there because we’re both nonbinary, we both have weird relationships with gender. A lot of this is trying to find an answer to why we feel the way that we do and why we don’t feel the way that people who function well in society do.”
Mylungs puts it more simply: “Sometimes I feel like an alien, and music helps me not feel that way.”
It’s on “Honestly, Honesty” that Nettifee’s words cease being coincidence. A bulb is illuminated to chase the dark. The prophetic breakthrough, beaming through my speakers in a hoarse claxon of a chorus.
Is not something I’m used to
But I don’t know if I believe
Any words you say to me
You’re taking up the air I breathe
Once again I’m losing sleep
And I know my friends will always be there for me
Mylungs remembers the lines jumping out at them while on a drive home from a concert. They opened their Notes app and dashed the words into the screen. Later, Fischer slapped on a prodigious riff.
“Honestly, Honesty” has become the flint against which the band sparks their set. When those titular words hit at the top of the chorus, eyes open in the crowd. Fists fly into the sky. Inhibitions dissolve like tissue paper in the rain. It’s the kind of moment that can stick with you, only to reappear suddenly when something makes you feel the same way again.
“I once joked about writing the music that I needed when I was in middle school,” Fischer says. “Every time someone tells me that my music makes them feel good, I’m just like, ‘Cool, I’m gonna keep doing this.’”
Bob Ross Mob Boss EP release show
7th St. Entry
Sunday, Feb. 16