Garage rock, right? We’ve heard it. The clogged arteries of the music-loving internet are thick with garage rock acts, bedroom pop acts, and lo-fi super-teens who have figured out how to produce the worst possible guitar tones on their laptops. Anyone can thrash around in their bedroom in front of their computer these days and make an album. Anyone, sure. So, it would seem that New York three-piece Total Slacker have got their work cut out for them if they want to cut through all the room tones and simulated tape hiss out there.
Thrashin’, the group’s debut album, stands apart from its peers, but the reasons are not so much in the music (which is fantastically catchy), but in Total Slacker’s complete melding of name and attitude. Garage rock has never sounded as effortlessly lazy as it does here. Slovenly, messy, filthy, bouncy and loosely psychedelic, Total Slacker’s music is channelled perfectly through Carlos Hernandez’s analogue production. And the beer-stained couch, and the cobwebbed Ping Pong table in the garage may as well be fourth and fifth band members, so completely engrossing is the Total Slacker mythos.
The bored, frenetic blasts of distortion and laid-back drumming of Rob Condon (brother of Beirut‘s Zach Condon), meshed with the male-female two-pronged vocal slouching of guitarist Tucker Rountree and bassist Emily Oppenheimer could well be the makings of any garage rock band. The same can be said for the quirky, nostalgic lyrics about early ’90s cultural touch pieces. This is nowhere more evident than the product-placement heavy Stuck In ’93, which focuses on a longing to drink Crystal Pepsi while playing Sega on a Slip-N-Slide.
Psychic Mesa opens the album with a blast of spring-reverb noise before settling into a chunky, Velvet Underground style bar-chorded guitar line (think Sweet Jane smoked out instead of strung out) and a nicely chugging beat. Rountree and Oppenheimer share vocals, and the interplay between their voices becomes the narrative arc of the album, and sets their sound apart from the pack. And, to its credit, Shitty Baby is about exactly what you’d think it’s about.
The lyrics and themes on Thrashin’ quite often inspire a smile. Secret VHS Collection centres on a hidden treasure-trove of pornography on video cassette (an artifact of the early ’90s if ever there was one), Stealing From Salvation Army is about waking up mid-afternoon and causing trouble (“Stealing from the Salvation Army is the greatest thrill of all, because you’re stealing from Republican parties.”), and Time Traveling High School Dropout basically recounts the plot of Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Magical Date Night is a nice, half-paced standout track about a magical MySpace date (“Put a fiver in the gas tank, play my New Kids cassette tape, try to get the Cheetos stains off my favourite shirt…”), and the slow chug feels like a swooning homage to Brighten The Corners era Pavement mixed up in senior prom awkwardness.
So, just when you thought the garage rock revival was about ready to limp off into the suburban sunset and waste away into monotony, Total Slacker come along and push the game forward. Thrashin’ is an excellent album by an unlikely trio of rock ‘n’ roll ne’er-do-wells who straddle the centurial divide with deft precision and delightful, glorious laziness.