The Strange Boys
Label: In the Red
Wasn’t the garage rock revival a decade ago? Aside from reminding me of the wince-inducing ravages of time, the Strange Boys’ second full-length, Be Brave, makes me wonder why it all collapsed so suddenly. It’s such a solid sound- pounding, stomp-worthy vocals, eerie guitar licks and a sloppiness that reminds you of house parties rife with empty cases of Pabst. While the Strange Boys wear their influences as blatantly on their sleeves as a stitched Trashmen patch, they also wear them well, with little twists of their own.
It begins with “I See,” an almost whimsical, swinging bit of pop whine complete with a nearly Dylanesque harmonica hook. Fortunately, the comparison to singer/guitarist Ryan Sambol’s own nasal vocals is not nearly as prominent on the rest of tracks. It’s the kind of song you can shuffle along to, and maybe dance a little with the drunk girl at the party, but it’s a false lead to an album that’ll bury itself in much more rock tones. “A Walk on the Bleach” begins with an almost Orbison-like gentle guitar and lyrics like “Life has changed on you again/ Something born, something dead/ Son, you can’t seem to make it out of your head/ Remember, we were friends.” But the energy really kicks in about a minute later, with frantic drums and cheap, wonderful guitars. That’s the real heart of the album, best exemplified by the title track (and single) “Be Brave.” An incredibly catchy guitar chunk and spooky, nearly surf-rock lick cover girl group backing vocals and a desperate vocal, sounding like something the Seeds wrote in a stupor, then completely forgot about until now.
The opening 1-2-3 kick of Be Brave doesn’t quite sustain itself, but it stays more consistent than not. Tracks like the wonderfully titled “Laugh at Sex, Not Her” take the simplicities of a repeating bassline and lyrics like “My friends are having sex in the other room” and simply run with them. There’s also enough variation, like the acoustic strummer “Dare I Say,” to keep things interesting. The musicians aren’t going to be mistaken for virtuosos (at least, hopefully not until their inevitable third album, when they decide to go “arty”), but are as appropriate to their style as anyone could possibly be. Aside from Sambol’s distinctive voice, Mike La Franchi’s understated but powerful drums drive the record as much as anything.
The Strange Boys have so far shared stages with Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston and King Khan; it’s hard to think of any of the three sounding quite like the father to the acidic, reverb-heavy sound that they’re going for. It’s a hard follow-up, and hopefully they’ll keep gleaning enough from their heroes to keep it going.