Know Your Beach Bands
In the mid-’00s, we witnessed a torrent of new bands with “wolf” in their names. Among the acts with lupine roots were Wolf Parade, Wolfmother, We Are Wolves, Sea Wolf, Wolf & Cub, and more. It got old, as trends do, and we reached Canis lupus critical mass in 2009 with Wolf Gang. The gentler onslaught of the Deers, Deer Tick, Deerhunter, the Dear Hunter, etc. happened pretty much concurrently, by the way. A decade later, indie bands aren’t as interested in embracing their animalistic tendencies. The only way to tame the beast within is to hit the dunes, swallow the sun, and scamper in endless blue waters. In 2015, it’s all about the beach. But there’s a difference between groups with beach imagery (Best Coast, Wavves, Surfer Blood) and those that fully cannonball in and include the word “beach” in their names. The past couple of years have brought a barrage of such bands. With a new Brian Wilson album (featuring Al Jardine) out next month and a biopic that just premiered at SXSW, now’s an especially good time to round up these young crews of sandy bums in hopes of sharing in their sun-soaked zen. Of course, not all of them are sprinkled with sunshine. Some are downright frosty and jagged. But there are many of them, so you may have had as much trouble as we did telling them apart until now. Catch the wave.
INFO: With only two Tiny Engines-released 7″s to their name, Beach Slang are a still trio of beach babies — but not for much longer. The band just signed to Polyvinyl and landed an opening slot for Cursive across the US. How? Their yearning, burning basement anthems find that sacred spot between pop and punk, with singer-guitarist James Alex rasping melodically over cranked amps. Plus, their Insta-ready lyrics have certainly helped stoke the buzz.
?RIYL: The Replacements, Restorations, Cheap Girls
RATING: 3 out of the 5 smokes you found in your hoodie (two got wet)
INFO: A three-piece raised on Petty, power-pop, and pub rock, Nude Beach have put out three hooky LPs that play like lost FM-radio classics. The band formed near Utica in 2008 before hauling their gear down to Brooklyn and establishing their M.O. — chunky riffs, splashy drums and sunny, shimmering melodies. It’s all a bit sonically removed from chilly New York, but perfect for, well, a day at the beach. Clothing optional, I guess.
RIYL: Exploding Hearts, The Babies, The Men
RATING: 8 out of 10 “forgotten” bikini tops
INFO: The narrative of Beach Fossils’ genesis is a lo-fi indie trope at this point. In 2009, solo act Dustin Payseur recruited a real band for his songs, then rode its buzz waves into festival slots and two full-length albums. We haven’t heard much from the group since 2013’s Clash The Truth, though its current members have since spun off to form the Snow and Bruce Smear, while its alums have started up DIIV and Heavenly Beat. Beach Fossils get extra points for actually sounding surfy and reverb-drenched, if only on the first LP.?
RIYL: Smith Westerns, Real Estate, Surfer Blood?
RATING: 7 sad seashells by the seashore
?CITY: Leeds, England?
INFO: Inspired by ’90s alternative and time spent in the garage, Menace Beach are mainly a duo, though they’ve expanded to five to bring the fuzz for live shows. Dual vocalists Ryan Needham and Liza Violet trade moods, with Needham’s whiny punk growl cutting up certain songs and Violet’s dreamy timbre soothing the wounds. They also share a name, knowingly or not, with a 25-year-old bootleg Nintendo game, which kind of makes sense.
RIYL: Skaters, Speedy Ortiz, Eagulls, Paws
?RATING: 4 out of 5 pairs of kitschy neon sunglasses
CITY: Victoria, British Columbia
?INFO: Carey Mercer’s main gig is with Frog Eyes, but he’s also spent time in the Canadian indie supergroup Swan Lake with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug. When he’s not wailing his voice raw in either of those bands, he focuses on Blackout Beach, a cavernous and apocalyptic solo project where he makes albums called Fuck Death and Light Flows From The Putrid Dawn. It’s emotionally heavy music, more akin to beachfront thunderstorms than scenic vacation days.?
RIYL: Frog Eyes, The Besnard Lakes, Mount Eerie
?RATING: 3 out of 5 perfect sunsets ruined by spontaneous violent weather
CITY: Melbourne, Australia?
INFO: Beaches, unremarkable though their moniker may be, at least picked an appropriate one given their sound — or was it the other way around? No matter: The formula works. The Aussie quintet has been cranking out hazy, psych-infused noise-pop since 2007, landing tour spots with Nick Cave, Wooden Shjips, and Thee Oh Seas. Vaguely Kraut-inspired and distant, it’s the kind of warm escapist music that could benefit from a good dune, a cozy blanket, and a clear schedule.?
RIYL: Tamaryn, Moon Duo, Best Coast
RATING: 7 sunburns in strange spots from being out all day
INFO: Between 2005 and 2014, Alex Zhang Hungtai put out a prismatic trickle of muddy, ambient, genre-bending music under the name Dirty Beaches. Though Hungtai folded the project last October, he left a mighty cache of cold, dire recordings to delve into. And now, he’s venturing into more minimal territory as Last Lizard, seemingly leaving his lo-fi days at the surf — if he ever was really there at all — behind.?
RIYL: Crystal Stilts, Atlas Sound
?RATING: 4 out of 5 embattled men gazing out at the black water and seemingly embodying all the world’s pain and joy at once
?INFO: These three clamorous grunge conscripts take their name from the hulking green tree used to make drums and kindle campfires, not from the spot with sandy dunes. But would they prefer a walk in the woods to a late-night brewfest under the pier? A pair of chugging singles — “Times Be Short” and “Arm Of The T-Rex” — shows plenty of eagerness to do the latter before devolving into cacophonous, headspace-wandering guitar jams. We’ll know more after we spend more some time with their crunchy debut.
RIYL: JEFF The Brotherhood, Cloakroom, Dinosaur Jr.
?RATING: 3 out of 5 deciduous trees exploding into autumn
INFO: UK-based singer-songwriter the Beach has exactly one song to his name, a Jeff Buckley-recalling soul-burner called “Thieves,” which you might mistake for a more rollicking (but lesser) Sam Smith song. Zane Lowe recently gave the song its radio debut, and effectively every webpage devoted to the Beach links to its Spotify play page or its audio-only YouTube video. Oh, and whoever the Beach is, he likes boats. That’s really all we know right now.
?RIYL: Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Vance Joy?
RATING: 2 out of 5 rusty Grammys washed up on the shore
INFO: French-born singer Victoria Legrand met Baltimore native Alex Scally in 2004 and immediately began making the kind of smoky, wistful, luxurious dream-pop the band has since become renowned for. The pair found a bit of mainstream success when 2012’s Bloom hit #7 on the Billboard 200 (and #1 on the US Alternative and Independent charts), but it’s been a while since they’ve shown us anything new. Their fifth album is, like an impending vacation retreat, heavily anticipated.?
RIYL: Au Revoir Simone, Mr. Twin Sister, Warpaint
RATING: 9 out of 10 smoke machines kept slightly offstage
CITY: Helsinki, Finland
INFO: Despite their name, these three Finnish Gentiles don’t keep kosher or follow the teachings of Hebrew texts. The backstory: In 2010, drunken Eastern European anti-Semites mistook guitarist Aleksi Lukander’s burly beard and all-black getup for an orthodox outfit and nearly pummeled him. Afterward, Lukander found some hope at a gorgeous Lithuanian beach, and a band name was born. Talmud Beach’s music, while not exactly transcendent, is light and bluesy with flairs of McCartney melodicism and Krautrock rumbling.
RIYL: Junip, Fruit Bats, Wings
RATING: 7 out of 10 tolerant backpacking companions
CITY: Hollywood, Florida
INFO: As far as surfy, hazy indie pop goes, Beach Day is doing everything by the book — nebulous guitar tones, handclaps, ’60s girl-group splashes, songs called “Gnarly Waves” and “Boys,” etc. etc. Kimmy Drake and Skyler Black paired up in 2011, and by the next year, they announced themselves the only way they could’ve: with a fuzzy slice of beach pop called, of course, “Beach Day.” For this Florida-bred band, the beach isn’t just a destination. It’s legitimately their entire lifestyle.
RIYL: Best Coast, La Sera, Tennis
RATING: 3 out of 5 surfboards (because look at them, they just have to surf)
CITY: New York
INFO: Ghost Beach must be where the ’80s musical spirits of Peter Gabriel and Tears For Fears went to rest, only to be dug up by a pair of electronic musicians with toy shovels. Josh Ocean and Eric Mendelsohn stick to the Reagan era for sonic inspiration, and their sparkly synthpop spans Billy Ocean post-disco and INXS dance pop. The one piece that doesn’t add up, though, is the name, reportedly a reference to a Goosebumps book from the ’90s. Anachronistic much? Pick a decade, dudes. Gosh.
RIYL: Passion Pit, Chad Valley, St. Lucia
RATING: 2 out of 5 half-dilapidated sandcastle mansions
CITY: Bergen, Norway
INFO: This merry band of self-described “Surfrock-Dubsters” are West Coast through and through — but the coast in question is Norway’s, not America’s. You’d hardly notice. Singer Arne Håkon Tjelle’s buoyant vocals flitter amid groovy bass bits and surprisingly slinky guitar lines, creating a patchwork of extroverted, ebullient, psych-pop. Despite their punk-as-hell name, Bloody Beach are party hippies at heart.
RIYL: of Montreal, Phoenix, MGMT
RATING: 8 out of 10 rum-stained paisley-floral shirts
CITY: Barcelona, Spain
INFO: Jangle pop is alive and well on Spain’s Balearic Islands. The four guys in the Google-impossible outfit Beach Beach are committed to keeping things breezy yet tight, with few songs over three minutes but rich with hooks and R.E.M.-style springy carbonation. Pro tip: Next time you’re at a party, blast “Fishbowl” and tell everyone it’s a re-recorded Reckoning-era B-side. You won’t need to do much convincing.
RIYL: Real Estate, R.E.M., People Get Ready
RATING: 7 out of 10 fizzy soda-pop cans in a styrofoam cooler
CITY: Toronto, Ontario
INFO: A lot of the press the Beaches have received in their native Canada centers on the ages of the four women in this teen synth-rock pack. Indeed, the Beaches are young, but in their three years of existence, they’ve been remarkably able to scratch and claw their sound far beyond their youth. More urban and city-woven than beachy and jaunty, last year’s Heights EP is a cab ride through neon clubs they probably can’t even play at yet — impressive and, yeah, kind of cool.
RIYL: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Metric, Elastica
RATING: 3 out of 5 leather jackets wrapped around the waist
CITY: Los Angeles
INFO: There’s something gritty and glamorous about Bonfire Beach, the cold post-punk quartet featuring Dexy Valentine of Magic Wands. Though the band only formed last year, the songs have an icy spaciousness that, with their lingering fuzz tones, moves them closer to jagged records like Iggy Pop’s The Idiot than contemporary rock. Valentine’s detached romanticism balances out the prickly riffs, refusing to swoon even when the crying guitars seem to demand it.
RIYL: Dum Dum Girls, Broadcast, Siouxsie And The Banshees
RATING: 3 out of 5 discarded lipstick tubes next to the fire pit
[Photo by Mateusz Strelau.]