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The Strange Boys hit the low-budget high-water mark 

Wednesday, Jul 1 2009
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Of the myriad genre "revivals" over the past 30 or so years, far more effort has been spent in the garage-rock world trying to re-create the now sound of yesteryear than in advancing the cause. Not that there haven't been some excellent exceptions. But for every Cheater Slicks or Deadly Snakes that managed to rain down a little excitement, there were a couple of dozen shaggy-haired Fuzztones clones stomping their Vox wah-wah pedals and generally acting like escapees from some teen exploitation flick. The most recent trend of making deliberately raunchy albums notwithstanding, the genre revels in stasis (only now it sounds as though everything is recorded in a public restroom).

"We fight against that to a certain point, but we don't give a shit," sniffs Ryan Sambol when the garage topic is broached. "It's just another word for a DIY kinda thing."

As singer and frontal lobe for Austin's Strange Boys, Sambol has good reason to shy away from being pegged as a straight-up garage outfit. Already one of those aforementioned excellent exceptions, its debut disc, The Strange Boys and Girls Club, moves it to the head of the current class. The Boys' surprising poise (average age 22.75, with brother Philip blowing the bell curve at 25) and musicality (the rhythm section of Sambol and drummer Matt Hammer keep it in the pocket Wyman/Watts style, and guitarist Greg Enlow borders on secret weapon) would qualify them as a top-flight, if slightly off-kilter, R&B outfit.

The album is an impressive pastiche of all the right noise: early Stones and Kinks stomp, 13th-Floor-Elevators-by-Black-Angels psych, fractured Gun Club–style blues, the Oblivians' primal thump, and the Black Lips' new-school raunch. The Strange Boys are worth loving for that alone. But Sambol's lyrics really separate the band from the pack. Beneath the ruckus lie words of considerable heft, albeit in missives that largely clock in at under two minutes. Highly personal, politically charged, and socially astute observations line up alongside stream-of-consciousness pieces and playful goofs (such as his wry assessment that a different Beatle deserved the pipe with "Should Have Shot Paul," whose lyrics consist of the song title paired with the line "Popped the wrong moptop"). And, of course, there are the requisite laments about girls.

Sambol, whose quivering, adenoidal vocals are often compared to Bob Dylan's nasal whine, shares something more important with the Great Bobo: He has an eye for the human condition and a touch of the poet, a fact that is often lost on a fan(zine) base hooked on playing Find the Influence. In fact, he says his biggest disappointment with reviewers is that they name like-minded music without giving his lyrics — which he considers poems — a real listen. "I hope [the songs] mean something," he says. "I'd like to have released a book of poetry, but I don't know anyone who would read a book of modern poetry."

That gaping missed connection aside, it's a smart bet that the Strange Boys aren't long for garage's cult ghetto. With ... and Girls' Club, they've shown themselves to be too big to reside in such cramped confines. They're self-assured and self-aware (scrapping an earlier version of the album helmed by indie linchpin Jay Reatard in favor of the more comfortable vibe at pal Orville Neley's house) and have graduated from good-time party band to pro-scale entertainers.

Meanwhile, Sambol, who already paints songs with bold strokes, promises more growth for both the band and his songs. As for his well-oiled R&B killing machine fumbling toward larger pastures, he matter-of-factly declares, "It doesn't matter how you got into [music]; it's where you end up. If you can keep doing it without having to put on mascara and green leather, you're all right."

About The Author

John O'Neill

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