Taking their name from a recent free speech case decided by the Supreme Court in which a high school student sued the school system after being suspended for displaying a banner with this idiotic slogan, Bong Hits for Jesus have a bit of ground to make up before I even played the music. Granted their hearts are in the right place regarding free speech, but it strikes me as both sad and reassuring at the same time that our free speech advocates these days are people like this kid and Howard Stern and Larry Flynt. It’s sad, because what they have to say is only worth protecting, because we can’t pick and choose which speech is acceptable to protect. It’s reassuring, because even in the days of the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, we can express political opposition. Granted there is some ebb and flow regarding these rights, but by and large, the free speech debate is often over things less serious than political speech because we value our political speech enough that it is still intact.
So going in, I expected some half-baked college jam band kinda fare. It didn’t take long to figure out that I was way off base. They have five songs on their page, all of which make them difficult to categorize and none of which establish the band’s “sound.” A dark groove and crazy vocals characterize “Crack Baby.” It’s very loose and weird, avant-garde even, but not particularly technical. There are some cool psyche guitar leads that stand out. “Within an Inch” has a lighter, echoey sound and a decent guitar hook that gives it some promise. Still, it’s a fairly messy song and suffers from poor production. BHFJ adopts a jazzy angle early on in “Your Mother.” The song picks up a bit, but then breaks down into formlessness. Poor production is once again a problem. The mellow, raw, understated guitar of “Name of the Song…” along with considerably better vocals and production should make this their best track, but it’s more conventional (even hinting at perhaps a Black Crowes influence) than the other tracks and suffers from that more than it benefits. As if they recognize that they’ve played it too safe, there’s an interregnum of electronics and conversation followed by another song altogether. It doesn’t really work as a single song, but I kind of respect that they’d rather screw it up than have it fit into a formula. That seems to fit their personality as a band. As if things couldn’t be more disparate, “Comes From You” is practically synth pop. What’s nice is that the vocals aren’t very slick, so it has an odd organic sense about it. Interestingly, I bet this one is pretty cool live.
While BHFJ hasn’t really cultivated a consistent sound, they have also avoided sounding like anyone else. I can see why they may be a fairly popular local attraction, because I suspect that their quirkiness is quite charming in person. Unfortunately, the songwriting isn’t particularly strong and the production is poor which prevents that charm from translating to my car or my living room. That being said, I don’t think they’re a bad band, because they clearly have fun with their music and their commitment to being odd at the expense of being good (or what’s accepted as good) is very rock n roll of them.