The fact that garage rock is still going strong in 2014 makes me feel rather conflicted. On the one hand, it’s great to see bands take a well-worn genre and add their own modern spins to it, but on the other hand there’s always the chance that the end result could end up being too homogenous and familiar to be memorable. Oklahoma garage-rock outfit BRONCHO is releasing their second full-length album Just Enough Hip to Be Woman in the wake of albums by like-minded indie musicians such as Ty Segall and White Fence. With the threat of oversaturation looming over the genre as a whole, can the group pull off a performance that can stand out on its own merits?
Opening track What starts things off casually enough with a simple mid-tempo jangle. It’s got a fairly catchy vocal hook centred on the repetition of the word “what”, but it still feels a little long even though it’s just over two minutes in length. Lead single Class Historian immediately makes an impression with a hook centred on some peppy “do-do-do” vocalising. Unfortunately, the vocalising actually overshadows the rest of this rather decent garage number – just because it’s catchy and attention-grabbing doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely distracting as well. Whether or not the hook improves the song or derails it may vary between listeners, but I personally can’t help but wonder how the song would have sounded without it.
Deena is another short and snappy number that’s slightly moodier than the last couple of tracks but still has a punchy new-wave sound that makes it flow smoothly over the course of its two-minute running time. It’s definitely a sign of the album improving as it goes along. Stay Loose begins with a staccato riff before the echoing lead vocals kick in, showcasing how BRONCHO’s influence diverges from the ‘60s psychedelia that tends to influence other contemporary garage acts and instead draws on guitar-driven pop from the ‘70s and ‘80s; with cleaner production and a synthesiser part in there somewhere, this could easily be a long-lost track by The Cars. Of course, the members of BRONCHO know how to keep their influences in check so as to order to deliver something that sounds fresh and it works quite well here.
NC-17 marks a fairly radical shift in tone as the group moves away from the sunny-sounding pop of the first few tracks into a sound that could be more accurately described as straight post-punk complete with callous yet pretty-sounding vocal delivery and instruments that sound both emotional yet detached. The frenzied guitar part that begins a little over halfway through the song is definitely one of the best moments on the whole album.
I’m Gonna Find Out Where He’s At is another moody indie-pop number that’s got some interesting instrumentation – aside from the slightly distorted guitars, there are twinkling sounds in the background that give the song an interesting texture. Stop Tricking starts with a distinctive beat that segues into another dreamy, bittersweet number. The percussion stands out here, as do the backup vocals on the chorus that repeat the song’s title over and over.
Taj Mahal builds off some rough guitar with little in the way of musical variation, a quality that amply supports one of the better vocal parts on the album. The only exception is a flatly spoken vocal section in the last minute that just sounds ridiculous – on an album where the songs are frequently short, wasting precious seconds on silly-sounding lines can be a problem. Fortunately, it doesn’t derail the song completely.
It’s On is much more upbeat in terms of both music and lyricism, making for a welcome pick-me-up after the moody previous track. There is some especially frantic guitar work towards the end but for the most part this is a fairly clean pop number. The same goes for Kurt. Like Class Historian, Kurt features a vocal hook – this time involving the repetition of “na-na” in time with the song’s fairly simple beat – but here it is used to far better effect in the midst of another slightly fuzzy garage rocker.
At almost five minutes in length, closing track China is the longest track on the album and fortunately it also turns out to be the best. Starting off with a distorted guitar and a minor-key piano part, the fuzzy guitar backs up another set of vocals that alternate between deadpan and emotional. Though both types of vocals work, it’s the instrumental side of things that makes things work. Here BRONCHO fully embrace their post-punk influences with jarring guitar parts, a lean and mean rhythm section and the occasional addition of a solitary piano part that’s slightly buried in the mix but nevertheless manages to make itself felt. It’s great to hear the band really pull out all the stops for this one, even if the production does make the guitar solos sound a little washed out.
As befitting a lo-fi garage rock album, Just Enough Hip to be Woman clocks in at just over thirty-two minutes but manages to make the most of its brief running time. The songs tend to be short ones but they all contribute one aspect or another to make themselves felt as they pass through a listener’s ears. BRONCHO are capable of making their songs bright and dark in equal measure, though it is the edgier tracks such as NC-17 and China that tend to provide the album’s greatest moments. While there are a lot of bands out there trying to make a name for themselves with a rough-and-ready style of rock, it seems like BRONCHO has managed to rise above and create a rather memorable breakout.