I feel like I've mentioned in past Gremmys something along the lines of "There weren't a lot of big releases this year" which had me wondering "What is a big release?". I mean, this is surf music, even Los Straitjackets are far from a household name. But this does feel like a big release year, with big releases from Les Agamemmnonz, Pollo Del Mar, Arno de Cea & the Clockwork Wizards, Surfer Joe, and of course these guys. They've hardly been dormant, with two LPs and two singles in the 2010s and I've managed to see them twice, but one LP was a live record and the other was covers (albeit most of them obscure enough to feel like originals). You Can't Handle the Tremolo Beer Gut is their first LP of originals since 2008.
That's a big deal to me. When I first heard this band while I was still feeling out this music in order to feel comfortable enough to do a weekly radio show, they were a band that really stood out to me. They just sounded so cool -- while I heard plenty of groups that were pushing surf past nostalgic retread, this was a band with a sound that felt like the non-surf world was missing out. Gaugueing from talk from others at the Surfguitar101 Convention and Surfer Joe Festival, I think a lot of others felt similarly.
So what exactly is it about that sound? I mean, it's not that far removed from the rest of surf, with plenty of reverb but basically nada as far as drip. It has a sort of Western rattle and twang to it, but there's only a handful of overtly Western songs. And whatever the opposite of "lush" is, it's that. It feels harsh, sparse, and MEAN. They perform with lights out aside from a strong red, filled with smoke that paints them in a monotone, and I think it's the PERFECT visual complement. But it's also wild and raucous -- plenty of bands can simply create a mood and lurk in it, it's another to make action.
But what's impressive about that sound is how flexible they've proven it to be. The opening track "Red Barrels" has xylophone in it, an instrument that's almost the antithesis of everything I just mentioned, but it sounds great in there. "The Minx" is a total fun-and-free buttshaker that still manages to keep that vibe. Acoustic guitar compliments it well on "The Reno Bundle", and there's synth on "Codename Tremstar", even some harpsichord... even though this is still very much the TBG sound you love, they have no shortage of fresh ideas here.
There's a big guest list on here, though a lot of them are quick vocal additions -- "Hey!" and screams and such. Let's be clear, this is absolutely still an instrumental record. There are two great guitar collaborations, however. One features TBG alumnus Sune Rose Wagner, more popularly a member of The Raveonettes. I'm about as much a fan of The Raveonettes as I am of anything -- they're #2 on my last.fm chart. With that project seemingly stalled at the moment, I'm thrilled to see his name on anything, and double thrilled to see it back with this group. It's a fantastic track that both sounds like Sune but also highlights how much sonic DNA the two groups share. The other is with Chris Barfield of Huntington Cads on "Barfield's Gambit", which came about through a simple social media post from Chris. I know this because they've leveraged bandcamp about as well as I've seen anybody do it, with little behind-the-scenes video clips attached to each track. It feels as essential as any liner notes.
Stuff like that -- the amount of detail and effort that went into this suggests that they know this was a "big release". And it is that. This is a wild and proud surf record full of fun melodies, interesting twists, and that sound, and I expect that it'll get you excited right from the start.
Vinyl is out now in Europe, unfortunately release in the US (through MuSick Records) is delayed until June.