Surf Rock in the Capable Hands of Portlanders
When people think of surf rock they think of sun, the beach and Southern California. Now, when people think of Portland, they may think of grunge, uppity hipsters in vegan restaurants or microbreweries, but Portland based band Guantanamo Baywatch transcends all of those stereotypes and creates music that sounds as if it was created in some surfside studio in SoCal during the ’60s. Guantanamo Baywatch has been producing music since 2010 and on their latest release, Desert Center, they buck what’s trendy and produce a half hour, eleven track album of surf rock mayhem.
Listening to Desert Center is almost like stepping back in time. The album opens with the instrumental “Conquistador” and it sounds like it was plucked directly from a Surfaris record. The guitar reverb on “Neglect” and catchy chorus and harmonies will have any listener singing, “So don’t N-E-G-L-E-C-T” along with the rest of the band. Songs like “The Scavenger” and “Video” launch the listener into a fast and grainy paradise. On “Blame Myself” the band explores more of their punk rock roots, but the guitar and organ are unmistakably surf-like. The listener will notice about halfway through the album the first “Untitled” song on the record and they will note that there is no music. Instead, a man shouts “Happy Halloween” before bursting into hysterical and maniacal laughter. It then jolts back to reality with the psychedelic and entirely instrumental “Witch Stomp.” The second to last song, another “Untitled,” has a group of men shouting random and nonsensical words like, “Boomerang,” “Crocodile” and “Billabong.” It closes with “The Australian,” a surf rock song in its purest form with pronounced bass and recurring guitar.
Desert Center at its core is an instrumental surf rock record, but the times when the listener is lucky enough to hear lead singer Jason Powell’s vocals prove that it has its strength in vocal surf rock. Powell’s voice weaves itself in and out through the fuzzy guitar and rattling drums. The effortlessness with which the band combines garage rock with punk and psychedelia captures what is most beloved about surf rock and that is its ability to mimic the sound of waves crashing and completely transporting the listener to that beach drenched in sun and surf.
Portlandia fans aside, if people enjoy the music and bands that are coming out of Portland or if they’re in the mood for some good old fashioned punk/surf rock fun, they need to bow down at the altar of Guantanamo Baywatch and let the baptismal waters of their music wash over them.