Written by Parisa Eshrati
Everyone proclaims to be in a garage rock band nowadays. Unfortunately, many groups tend to think that simply recording in low fidelity and drenching their music in fuzz makes quality garage music. This blog discusses that current trend and provides an overview of some Slovenly Records label bands to show that there are still amazing artists out there making real garage rock music.
A few years ago, if you told me that you found a new garage rock album, I’d stop everything I was doing to take a listen. After my first experience listening to Thee Oh Sees’ The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, I fell head first into the current garage rock revival (early 2000s - present) and spent a great deal of time finding new bands to dig into. Groups like The Reatards, The Gories, and The Mummies completely transformed my idea of what I knew about garage rock music today. These bands were simple, aggressive, and embodied the gritty, unpolished energy of true rock and roll.
Nowadays, the term “garage rock” has unfortunately become played out. When I was working at a University radio station, we’d get tens of albums every week that claimed the band “Sounds like: Ty Segall, Black Lips, etc.”-- when in reality,sounded more like Mumford and Sons. I’m not claiming that the genre suddenly sucks, now that it has gotten popular. But it is unfortunate that a lot of people have caught onto the craze by essentially recording their album on an Easy Bake Oven just to make it sound lo-fi. The problem of this genre-saturation is that a lot of artists mistake the simplicity of this music style to just being half-assed, and that leads for a lot of mediocre bullshit drowning out the quality garage rock.
A poorly produced garage album with overall excellent music is like an Ed Wood film. His scenes were usually filmed in one take, the special effects were extremely low-budget and dingy, yet his passion and intent shined through which gave the films an endearing aspect that elevated it from just being a cheap throwaway film. I think Wood’s passion over technicality is what led his films to develop a cult following over the years, rather than being remembered as a cheap excuse for cinematic art (as opposed to The Room, which is a cult classic solely because of how awful it is). Similarly, garage rock has low-quality production, but its vehement energy and zealous intention shine through the fuzz of the music. Garage rock may be simple music, but artists shouldn’t try and reproduce the sound without any intention. Overall, true garage rock bands can be considered the Ed Woods, whereas these mass produced copycat bands can be thought of as the Tommy Wiseaus.
It’s easy to forget how many incredible artists are out there when everyone is in a “garage rock” band, so here are some true artists that reinstate artistry that exists out there.There are several stellar garage-focused labels, but this blog focuses solely on Slovenly Records ‘cause I have always found them to be one of the most unique and consistent garage rock labels out there.
The Blind Shake
The Blind Shake is a Minneapolis-based trio that falls into the heavier side of the garage sound. They use a baritone guitar to get their droney, bassy effect and add more depth to their spaghetti-western tinged riffs. They top off with some serious shredding, and cleverly utilize elements of surf rock in their riffs to give the songs a catchy groove without necessarily giving them that light, tween feel that current surf rock has. These guys are a force to be reckoned with when they play live. They play with so much gusto that it looks like they might spontaneously combust at any moment. Don’t let their serious nature fool you, though, they’re perhaps some of the most down to Earth dudes. They were the first band I interviewed as a college radio DJ, and I’m sure if they weren’t so nice (despite my nervousness and second-rate questions) I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to continue on with music journalism.
Simply put, The Spits may be one of the best bands to come down from their alien spaceship and grace this Earth. The most conventional way to describe their style is a faster-paced version of The Ramones combined with a more savage and synth-aggressive Devo. Although those early punk influences are apparent, they have found their own niche and created their own unique style. Distorted vocals and scuzzed out synth parts make the music sound like they’re broadcasting live from a UFO and upping the galactic punx. Their songs are, on average, one minute and thirty seconds, and each song has such a strong impact as if The Spits have just punched you in the face and dipped out before you saw anything coming. I got to talk with The Spits about world domination during SXSW, which you can read about here.
These punk rockers hailing from Sardinia probably have the most distinguished sound on the label...and really the most distinguished sound of most garage bands I’ve heard. Their tweaked out 1960s rockabilly rhythm and overall wickedness would be a perfect soundtrack to a Tarantino film high-speed chase scene. They’re really tight in their instrumental precision, especially the drumming, but still maintain a level of insanity through wailing harmonicas and occasional face-shredding solos.
One of my top contenders for favorite album of 2013 was Bazooka’s self-titled EP, and it still holds the same weight as it did when I first heard it two years ago. This five-piece from Volos, Greece have a corrosive and grunged out approach to garage with a no-filter sound that’s drenched in fuzz and layered with agonizing, raw vocals. I think what really helps set them apart from other bands is their utilization of two drummers; the power drumming gives their song structure that extra backbone, making their overall sound much more ferocious and intense.
Komodina 3 is another Greek band on the Slovenly label, but their approach to garage rock is entirely different from Bazooka’s. Their songs with thrashy arrangements, haphazard guitar parts, a wonderfully tacky Farfisa Compact organ, are topped with spastic vocals singing lyrics in Greek. This was probably all recorded with a budget of $20. I’m not throwing shade, though-- I think these guys are a prime example of Ed Wood artistry.. Their music is not overcooked. It’s crude energy pumping out 1- 2 minute freak-paced dance songs. The end result is really refreshing, like finding an early demo of a band you love: it shows when they were a bit unpolished but still exemplifies that talent you see in them today.
Wau y Los Arrrghs!!!
Wau y los Arrrghs!!! from Valencia, Spain are considered a 1960s rock revivalist group. Their vox organ gives the music a go-go swing and they draw strong influences from artists like The Kinks (they even cover their 1965 single “Time Will Tell”). Though their use of surf melodies is reminiscent of classic 60s melodies, they take a far more vicious approach to recreating this sound. The frontman, Juanito Wau, is a bugged out singer with a crustiness to his voice, as if he just got washed up on shore and hasn’t cleared out all the grit from his throat. Along with Bazooka’s self-titled album, Todo Romper was one of my favorite releases of 2013 and still stands as one of the catchiest albums off the Slovenly label.
Useless Eaters is the project of mastermind Seth Sutton, who has collaborated with other notable names in garage rock such as Jay Reatard and Ty Segall. Their music is rough around the edges, but manage to fit in some ingeniously catchy riffs within their two minute longevity. Songs like Daft Love are garage rock in nature but are driven with choppy post-punk rhythmic patterns are evocative of an early Devo demo.
The Subsonics are described in their liner notes as a “beatnik, noir-punk careen machine”, and they juxtapose that proto-punk attitude with a bubblegum coating from the sunny melodies, delicate and willowy lead vocals, and pleasant vocal harmonies. Their music brings to mind the scene from Trainspotting where Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” is the soundtrack to the main character’s heroin overdose. That scene depicts a grave matter (literally) and the Subsonics’ similarly depressive atmosphere wash over the melancholy with a carefree sound that harmonizes both extremes in a way that is strangely beautiful.
Though it may not be deliberate on their end, J.C. Satan often reminds me of early nineties industrial or shock rock. The overall combination in “New Face”, for example, of deep bass grooves, experimentation with bizarre sounds and noise clips, and sinister attitudes are reminiscent of something off of Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of an American Family. They entrance the listener in the melody, but then the song will unexpectedly kick into a thrashy, fuzzy chorus that’s raw and unfiltered, as if it’s coming from a straight line from their basements in France. Their cacophony of sound is juxtaposed with understated vocals, and the contrast of chaos with indifference is what really makes their overall ambience so unnerving. The unanticipated turns and twists in each song is unsettling and thrilling at the same time, like the paradox that is their name.
The main takeaway point of this is not only to introduce some great bands, but also present the idea that authentic garage rock indeed still exists. The diversity of the aforementioned groups reveal that there can be so many unique styles that fall within the umbrella of “garage rock”, and they don’t necessarily have to be drenched in fuzz and lazy riffs to get the sound across. Despite all the half-rate tweeny garage bands out there, there will always be labels like Slovenly that strive to keep the true soul and grit of garage rock alive.