Last year, more than 76,000 albums were released — which each sold at least one copy — according to Nielsen SoundScan reports. Of those sales, roughly 90 percent belonged to only 2 percent of the titles. In such a saturated market, it's hard for a new record to garner any attention. That is, unless there's a mostly naked dragon lady on the cover.
The provocative green-painted woman, clad only in pink panties and pasties, and disguised by a papier-mâché reptilian mask (with kitschy cat-eye sunglasses, natch) kneels on a zebra-print rug between two small potted palms. It's a hard image to un-see. It's also a perfect image to grace the cover of Chest Crawl, the second album of lighthearted surf-punk from the Portland, Ore., band Guantanamo Baywatch.
The Baywatch doesn't need a Humanoid-from-the-Deep pin-up to elicit a response, though. The band name does that on its own. Devised during a drunken night of spit-balling ridiculous names for a friend's 'zine, the choice has proved divisive. "Some people hate it and some people really like it," says singer/guitarist Jason Powell. "I don't know, I'm in between."
No matter how it was received, the joke was enough to kick-start the purposefully lo-fi trio of singer/guitarist Powell, bassist Chevelle Wiseman and drummer Christopher Scott. After a 2010 LP and a handful of singles and cassettes, Chest Crawl finally captures the arresting budget-surf sound the band wrangles on-stage in all its raw, blown-out excitement.
"We play with a lot of just straight-up surf bands, and they stand there and they play songs and it's awesome," Powell says from a tour-stop in Texas. "But, to me, that kind of music is party music."
Even going by the out-of-focus still shots that litter the Web, Guantanamo Baywatch shows are sweaty, slovenly affairs, often held in basements or small clubs. It's a perfect fit for The Milestone, where Guantanamo Baywatch will play its first Charlotte gig on July 7.
Chest Crawl is an affirmation of the band's good-times impulse. 2010's Postcard from The Tar Pitz, released on Hovercraft Records, was a conservative representation of the band, recorded cleanly and clearly. Powell all but disavows it today. The raw, lo-fi sound of Chest Crawl, he says, more closely matches the band's intent. "It sounds like a tape, and that was kind of the idea," he says.
The resulting 11-song album — released on the steady Portland punk label Dirtnap — calls to mind West Coast budget-rockers like The Mummies or Nobunny, with its VU-pegging all-mono production, while the sharp repurposing of '60s surf instrumentals and teen-idol pop (check the raggedly compelling cover of Paul Anka's "Diana") draws from the same trash-culture well that nourished The Cramps and John Waters.
But in the midst of the skuzzy, beach party rock 'n' roll, B-movie imagery and tongue-in-cheek band name, Guantanamo Baywatch has managed to create a total aesthetic package — one that stands out on record-store shelves. In other words, this is one album you can pretty accurately judge by its cover.
Guantanamo Baywatch with Serfs, The Vignettes. July 7. 9 p.m. $6-$8. The Milestone, 3400 Tuckaseegee Road. www.themilestoneclub.com.
How did you not mention that How Bout You is sung by Travis Phillips.
It is good to see that Charlotte is been put on the map. It is…
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