Five Overlooked Garage Rock Albums of 2012

The Mallard. Photo: Ellen Rumel

As we move into the final quarter of 2012, we’ve already had a pretty considerable amount of spectacular garage albums cast our way. Royal Headache, King Tuff, Ty Segall and White Fence (the latter two both individually and as a tandem) already have had lots of heads turning (and nodding, and pogoing), but now the genre’s heavy-hitters (Thee Oh Sees, the Fresh & Onlys, Segall’s third release of the year) are going to be spending the autumn months swilling cheep beer and swinging around loud guitars for the remainder of the year. Before the big-name, hotly anticipated records hit stores and your favorite streaming service,  now would be an excellent time to revisit the year’s most overlooked garage records. Some of the entries are good enough to possibly overtake even your favorites.

1. The Mallard, Yes on Blood

With song titles like “You Got the Critics” and “I Listen to Lyrics Last,” frontwoman Greer McGettrick embodies garage-rock’s irreverence and humor, but she’s also a wildly creative musician who mashes traditional garage with avant-garde spates of noise (“Vines”), slyly subverts gender-specific pronouns (“Mansion”), and has a tendency to swing left into furious tempo changes (nearly every other song on the album). The Mallard sounds a little like Times New Viking if they were obsessed with Thee Oh Sees instead of worshipping at the altar of the Clean, which bodes well for Castle Face Records, partly owned by Oh Sees lynchpin John Dwyer. In terms of creativity, force of personality, and vigorous spirit, Yes on Blood easily bypasses even the spectacular highs of Ty Segall and the Fresh & Onlys’ self-titled debut records, both released on — you guessed it — Castle Face. It’s kind of baffling to witness a new band so quickly raising the San Francisco garage scene’s lofty bar on their first try, but it’s also really exciting.

2. Useless Eaters, C’est Bon!

With three full-lengths and a virtually incalculable number of EPs and singles already under his belt, C’est Bon! still manages to be Seth Sutton’s best album to date due to the strength of the songs and the aesthetic curveball of a tight punk band wanting to sound lackadaisical and only halfway succeeding. Little hints of classic punk like the Urinals and the Fall reveal themselves throughout the album’s nineteen(!) minutes, but the same could be said for most garage-punk records these days. What sets Sutton apart is his magnetic charisma and his ability to siphon all of his influences into a style very much his own.

3. Gap Dream, Gap Dream

Now that Dylan Baldi and his not-so-merry band of Cloud Nothings have left bedroom-garage behind in favor of music loved by closeted ’90s emo kids and the wide contingent of people trying to impress Steve Albini, there’s no folk hero for homespun music with loud guitars left for Cleveland. That is, until Gabriel Fulvimar came out of his garage to deliver one of the most compulsively replayable rock albums of the year. The ’60s psychedelia borrowed by most of his peers is on full-display here, but the aesthetic is also blended with the cosmic float of Spiritualized, creating an incredibly hypnotic experience. Call it Music to Take Drugs in Your Loft To.

4. Mind Spiders, Meltdown

After a storied (if a little undervalued) career with Texas punks the Marked Men, last year, Mark Ryan made an album under the name Mind Spiders, an admirable effort with a few weak spots. On his second album as Mind Spiders, Ryan trims all the fat, leaving himself with an eleven-song set that start out anthemic but gradually disintegrates into a wasteland of warped synths. The almost-high-concept sequencing doesn’t bog the album down by any means; it’s one of the most fist-pumping garage-punk albums released all year; something his old peer Jay Reatard knows a thing or two about.

5. Woollen Kits, Woollen Kits

It’s hard to believe that, just a few years ago, we were complaining that no bands tried to sound like the Clean anymore. After their influential first run, a second wave of interest caused by Pavement, and a third at the hands of newer bands like Times New Viking, Crystal Stilts, and Twerps, people have finally caught up to the genius of the Kilgour brothers, and the people’s reward for doing so is Australia’s excellent Woollen Kits. The band also has a fairly profound Beat Happening influence, but that only makes it obvious as to how much the Clean meant to Bret, Heather, and Calvin. If you’re looking to scratch your Flying Nun itch — or if you’re just looking for something jangly and catchy as hell — look no further.

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