Nick Bollinger reviews recent local garage rock releases from The Situations, The Raw Nerves, The Conjurors and The Cavemen.
Garage rock? You might say, ‘I know it when I hear it’, but let’s attempt a definition anyway.
The term was coined in the 70s for a type of music made in the 60s; all those thousands of bands that had sprung up in the wake of the British beat boom, across North America, South America, Australasia and just about everywhere else. These bands were raw and greasy – it was music you could picture being made in a garage, whether it actually was or not. And the fact of their obscurity was part of the deal. Though a few garage bands had one-off hits – the Standells’ ‘Dirty Water’, for instance, is a garage rock classic – too much success would disqualify them. The early Stones, for instance, would be garage rock if they hadn’t become the superstars other garage bands were trying to emulate. Garage rock evolved – if ‘evolved’ is the right word – with the arrival of punk rock. (In fact ‘punk rock’ – in the days before British punk – was an alternative term, sometimes used in America, for garage rock.)
But down through the decades, garage rock has become, rather than something achieved by glorious accident, a genre in its own right, studied and perfected by bands like the Raw Nerves.
This four-piece from Auckland just about compress the whole spectrum of garage rock into a chorus that goes “nobody gives a shit about you and your band”, summing up the anonymity, the sense of being swallowed by history, that is the essence of garage. And they have plenty more of this rough and ready garage rock – 60s tunefulness crossed with 70s punk.
More Nerves is the second full album the Raw Nerves have released, and it might be just a notch more hi-fi than their debut, though that’s relative. And don’t be deceived by the cover, which depicts the group as Viking berserkers and appears to be a homage to another subgenre altogether; the music is as garage as it gets. Though it’s been around digitally since last year, More Nerves is now available on vinyl – which of course is garage rock’s natural medium, a little crackle and static just adding to the authenticity.
The Raw Nerves album comes via 1: 12 Records, a local label devoted to vinyl and to the broad concept of garage rock. Among their other recent local releases is the latest record from the Conjurors. Also out of Auckland, I’d call them a garage supergroup, if that didn’t sound like a contradiction in terms. Enough to say that all the members have played in other local bands, including some quite sophisticated ones, like the Ruby Suns and the Brunettes. But here it’s all about gleeful primitivism.
But if the Conjurors are garage veterans with a long musical lineage, The Cavemen shows that garage rock is going to keep rejuvenating itself. Their name is like a license to get Neanderthal, which is a task these self-described ‘teenage cretins’ take to with paleolithic gusto.
There’s more punk than 60s pop in the Cavemen’s equation. The Ramones are evidently role-models. Their songs, which are consistently short and fast, are like two-minute cartoons. And in the same way the Ramones made a cartoon of dissolute New Jersey streetlife in songs like ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’, the Cavemen celebrate their New Zealandness in songs of questionable cultural pride like ‘Drink Driving’ and ‘At The Pub’. Other Cavemen songs are not so region-specific, but have choruses any cretin would be proud of. ‘Rock’n’roll retarded me!’, ‘Trash talking paint huffing girl’ or ‘She left me for Adolf Hitler.’
But my favourite local garage band might be the Situations. Though their music is simple and direct, it’s also played with finesse, which goes to show that garage is an attitude, not a lack of ability. The Situations remind me of Toy Love, from the late 70s, but also of the great New Zealand bands from the 60s – think the La De Da’s or Ray Columbus and the Invaders: bands whose records are ranked around the world as garage rock classics, though here at the time it was simply thought of as the best high-energy pop we could produce.
The Situations latest album is called Forever Scene Changes; something to do with several of the songs concerning experiences touring overseas. Yet what most of their hooky, immediate songs make me think of are scenes of suburban New Zealand.
Over the years I’ve seen the Situations in a lot of different situations - not just playing their own music but also as backing band for rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Wanda Jackson, as surrogate Invaders behind Ray Columbus, and rhythm section for fellow garage-rockers Shaft. And they have always come up with the goods. They have never been well-known, but have always been reliable, rock-solid, and a hell of a lot of fun. The definition of garage rock.
The Cavemen - The Cavemen; Raw Nerves - More Nerves; The Conjurors - Hints; available on 1:12 Records.
The Situations - Forever Scene Changes available on Bandcamp.