Label: Burger Records
Release Date: February 16th, 2012
Stop me if this sounds familiar: California’s Burger Records found an unheralded garage pop act and released their terrific debut album to masses of loyal, passionate fans. It’s a tale told all too often about the label, but it’s a problem I’m sure they don’t mind having. What worries me, however, is the way in which music fans and outlets are beginning to cover the always expanding Burger catalogue, seemingly grouping acts together and overlooking some of the year’s best material.
Such is the case with Philadelphia’s The Tough Shits. And if you can believe it, the band takes a more pop inspired approach to their self-titled debut, crafting one of the most heartfelt yet irreverent albums of the year. If their early 7” material was their country music period, Tough Shits marks the beginning of their surf influence, quickly tearing through songs at a breakneck pace that matches the Dick Dale-esque guitar found throughout. Take “Early Grave” for instance, the story of a girl who’s lazy but loved; the guitar bounces from note to note, guiding the listener along and immediately inviting the tapping of a foot or the pantomiming of the guitar itself. It’s relentless and breezy, matching the lyrical content perfectly. On “Holding a Seance,” the group tries to summon a ghost with nothing more than a Ouija board and a dream, “talking in a scary voice, putting curses on the boys / they said my Ouija board’s just a toy, but I know that ain’t true / we’re holding a seance.” It’s childish in the most unbelievably delightful way, the exact feeling you might expect when a bunch of hard boiled punk rockers sing about board games and ghosts. It’s that unbridled character, a charm unmatched by few contemporary acts, that immediately drew me in to the album.
And the implementation is fairly no nonsense throughout. Burn through no more than two quick verses, play around with a guitar fill and scream the painfully true choruses at high volume. And I think that is where the appeal actually lies with this record. Tough Shits has an uncanny ability to be played multiple times in a row, each listen lending itself more and more to the karaoke of it all. To take part in the mostly humorous love stories should be expected, and when the band laments on “She’s a Loner” or “Chinatown Bus,” you should be the backup singers, cheering along with friends. There’s an unspeakable comradery and pervasive playfulness throughout the album, and even though listening to a record is usually an intimate affair, Tough Shits is best experienced amongst others. And for that, more than anything else, I commend them. It’s the kind of effort Burger Records has become known for putting out, but it certainly doesn’t blend in, so don’t continue to let it pass by.