Late in the last decade, a peculiar something began festering in sweaty garages across the Bay Area: a swamp-like strain of garage rock laced with the reverberation of surf tides, the compressed aggression of punk, and the hypnagogia of psychedelic drones. Artists particularly harvested from the west coast — Thee Oh Sees, Night Beats, the recently defunct Bare Wires, to name a few — and labels such as In The Red, Kill Shaman and Castle Face not only resurfaced a heightened revival for garage jams, but have made garage alive, throbbing and breathing hot in your ear.
Several years before wunderkind Ty Segall would become indie rock’s most sheepish overachiever, he and his pal Mikal Cronin grew up traversing golden shores near Laguna Beach, California. The pair recorded Reverse Shark Attack, quickly selling out of its vinyl-only release in December 2009. Four years later, both Segall and Cronin have risen to become regarded as respected songwriters and musicians, collaborating to handfuls of bands including Sic Alps and The Traditional Fools.
Segall’s three releases of the past year were threaded with the same sun-drenched garage, but each one spanned new territories, listening as one would look through a photo album. Pre his status as a Pitchfork Festival headliner, pre-cover stories, pre-the cotton candy accompaniment to every twenty-something girl’s musings, Reverse Shark Attack is the closest thing to re-living Segall’s journey without asking him ourselves. And it’s a most engaging tale.
The no-fuss opener to Reverse Shark Attack “I Wear Black” writhes with grumbles, Segall’s voice barely spurting through the distortion and Cronin crashing cymbals. The album particularly highlights Segall’s talent for vocal inflection, dropping from a baritone growl in “Drop Dead Baby” to a warped-to-wonder falsetto in “High School”.
The guitar strings in the arrhythmia-inducing “Ramona” aren’t plucked, they’re punished, reminiscent of the shocking speed of Fugazi and late ‘80s punk. “Bikini Babes” shreds and screeches, while “Doctor Doctor” may as well come attached with a mosh pit. The 10-minute long “Reverse Shark Attack” swells from a ditty before swirling into a clamoring punk homage of Dick Dale & the Del-tones’ “Misirlou” flourishing with fuzz guitars. Even through headphones the tracks of Reverse Shark Attack listens like an illicit basement set, 20 compressed minutes of pure punk before the cops are set to arrive and shut the whole show down.
Although hardly original, garage rock as a genre gets slammed with the accusation that it’s too imitative of someone or something else, another era that’s come and gone, whether it be the likes of Iggy and the Stooges or The Animals. Really, anyone who’s channeled aggression through a reverb pedal and thrashing drums. Yet unlike their distant cousins hardcore and ‘70s punk, Cronin and Segall’s refurbished garage jams are neither brooding nor predatory. Stunningly raw — fresh, even — Reverse Shark Attack prowls at the unsuspecting ear instead of tearing at flesh. Dual jaws take ahold of skin, sure, but with smirks that can only belong to two sleepy twenty-somethings changing the disgruntled face of garage rock. Give it legs, and Reverse Shark Attack struts.
Essential Tracks: “Reverse Shark Attack”, “Drop Dead Baby”, and “Bikini Babes”