Radio K favorites like FIDLAR, Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall have helped to establish (but not entrench) this code in the past year. Each abandons it when necessary, but certain similarities between them and other garage punk acts cannot be denied. Listening to John Barrett, under the name Bass Drum of Death, map the landscape of his particular garage on his new self-titled LP is instantly gratifying when he adheres and continuously gratifying when he abandons.
It's a funny thing when a band self-titles an album that is not their first. GB City came out two years ago and the music that Barrett has churned up since the debut is apparently more deserving of his band's namesake. It's probably unwise to ascribe symbolic weight to the title of an album that sounds as reckless and off the cuff as Bass Drum of Death, but here we are.
Recklessness is important to garage punk and the album is reckless in the ways we've come to expect from the genre's best. Tracks like “Crawling After You” and “I Wanna Be Forgotten” are blistering and overly noisy. Barrett's unrestrained wails reach impressive heights on “Fines Lines.” One of the songs is called “Bad Reputation,” either an homage to Joan Jett or a disregard for the song of same name (maybe a little of both).
Bass Drum of Death
Bass Drum of Death
Written by: Griffin Fillipitch
There is a pretty stringent, sometimes contradictory code of conduct for anyone making a garage punk album. It needs to have guitar lines that are flimsy and determined at the same time. It needs a sneer from a lead singer that sounds pissed and indifferent at the same time. It needs sonics that are fuzzy and piercing at the same time. It needs to be fast. The rhymes should be easy.
There is a different kind of recklessness here too, though. It comes from the variety of speeds that Barrett can operate at, and the ease with which he slips in and out of them. His brand of garage rock is most notable for being willing to go a little slower. Almost half of the songs on the album last around four minutes, an unheard of figure for bands with similar sounds. “Such a Bore” is loose enough to accelerate to a sprint after two minutes of jaunt, and then slow back down again.
Most of the songs are unhurried in this way, but they never give way to sonic sludge, and they never get boring. A feeling abounds in the album that anything can happen. Anything doesn't happen. Bluesy riffs drift in and out, tempos change, but everything hits super hard. It's a straightforward record that keeps its options open.