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Thee Tsunamis
Saturday Night Sweetheart Elizabeth Newton , August 20th, 2015 17:15

The debut LP of Indiana-based bubblegum punk trio Thee Tsunamis masquerades as a jab at the self-importance of male-dominated garage rock, but what presents as parody quickly emerges as a contribution to the canon in its own right. Saturday Night Sweetheart follows the band's 2013 demo tape A Goodbad Man Is Hard To Find (2013) and last year's Delirium And Dark Waters EP, and delivers cutting cultural critique all with a delightfully straight face.

In the band's own words, the twelve tunes "tell a story as old as time: what the men don't know, the little girls understand." Titling songs after 'Skip Tracer' and 'Shakee Jake', these ladies leave their diary unlocked, unabashedly naming targets in sympathy with a lineage of female and transgender musicians long told to zip their lips by those who hold the keys. But far from dismissing the machismo of garage rock history altogether, Thee Tsunamis siphon what is best from that tradition – punchy song forms, raw energy, and edgy melodic hooks – and put it to their own devices.

'Trash Talk', accompanied by this spot-on video, draws on a decorated history of girl group glory from the Brill Building through to riot grrrl. "Here I go with my trash talk," yowls front-woman Betsy Shepherd, before launching into a short, searing guitar solo – one of dozens on the record. She is matched by Jenna Beasley on bass and Sharlene Birdsong at the kit. For this trio, sheer shredding seems to be the quickest way to dish the dirt, and without any of the awkward social fallout.  

Thee Tsunamis douse any flicker of vulnerability with a double dose of irreverence. The narrator of 'Crybaby' first admits that "I was born to be his fool," but she just as soon seeks retribution: 'How long is it gonna take until it's his turn to be a crybaby?' Of the twelve cuts, written by the band, 'Drag' is a highlight, a deep groove for a lady worn down by a dud of a dude who doesn't like the party because "the music's too loud." Riding through tight verses and blink-and-miss-them bridges, the album's theme starts to emerge: if you don't have anything useful to say, Thee Tsunamis would rather you get out of their way. "Why do you talk to me?" Birdsong asks on 'Dummy,' finally saying what we're all thinking.

Glad to give their sweeties a taste of their own medicine, Thee Tsunamis distort a mashup of conventions of rock and bubblegum pop from the 50s through the 90s, deflating any traces of pomp through self-aware satire reminiscent of New York Dolls and the Runaways. Though their minds are heavy with nostalgia, the girls never once sound tired, wielding self-respect as a stubborn refrain. "I can't stand myself," Shepherd gleefully announces on brilliant album opener 'Female Trouble'.

Drenched in distortion typical of the Magnetic South recording aesthetic, the album's airtight persona is sealed by its gigantic sound, recorded "in between coffee and cocktails" in an Indiana basement by sound engineer John Dawson. Plate reverb, delay, and other effects galore make the tracks literally buzz with life. On the title track, the gals stretch out their legs on Sleater-Kinney riffs shrouded in vibrations echoing back to the wildest cuts of the Velvet Underground. After subtle nods to surf rock, doo-wop, and hardcore, psychedelia now makes an appearance, closing off an outing as brief, ballsy, and brimming with brains as any so far this year.

Come for the camp, stay for the sound, and exit with hooks emblazoned on your eardrums. Thee Tsunamis convince you to leave your insecurities in a puddle on the floor. If the songs are any indication, these women are happy to be overlooked. It's in your best interest to put them on for a spin, regardless.   

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