The Touch 7
Reviewed by Joel Schalit
Thursday, August 5 1999, 7:38 PM
Sixties-influenced garage rock is one of those recurrent genres that keep coming back every quarter of a generation or so. Either a new independent label pops up that reconstitutes it in one form or another, be it in musical style or lifestyle-oriented, fashionably hip packaging. Or it returns in the form of quietly mainstream rock, like it did during the 1980s in certain elements of New Wave and power-pop. But as we've moved further and further away from the sixties, garage's influence on the mainstream has waned in favor of hip-hop, and once again, heavy metal. Sixties aesthetics have moved back into the garage as it were, into the same suburban spaces that punk has taken up residency in over the past ten years.
Not only has that resulted in oftentimes interesting artistic syntheses. But it's also helped illustrate how punk culture has maintained a particularly organic connection to the 1960s; one that in many respects remains vibrantly engaged with certain kinds of social transformations we associate with an era epitomized by the kinds of music that were produced at the time. One of the things that guides many artists like Billy Childish to assimilate sixties garage aesthetics is that they subconsciously recognize that. By writing and performing such work in said fashion, they're calling forth something akin to the spirit of that age to manifest itself again in the here and the now, in a manner that transcends the simplicity of the musical vernacular that they've chosen to speak. The sum is greater than the parts as they say. It may strike you as kind of Neanderthal by today's hi-tech standards, but it's an intentional primitivism that really means something.
I personally find a great deal of recent garage influenced bands such as The Makers to place too much emphasis on nostalgia over substance. It seems like its all about declaring that one identifies with an era on the most superficial of levels rather than artistically showing how they've learned something from it. What you want to hear is someone moving through the sixties on a deeper level, without the hyperbole, sans the groovy love beads and Beatle boots, hoping that the chord progressions, the lyrics, and even the nature of the recording will reveal something about how people interact with histories that they still find relevant and meaningful. One such band is The Tentacles, a literal super group hailing from the international axis of Anglo-North American artists that call labels like K and Kill Rock Stars and Mint Records their home. The Tentacles' first single, "The Touch," does nothing to diminish the sense of authenticity that a good punk band can bring to their rendition of a traditionally guitar-driven garage punk number.
The single's first song, "The Touch," floats out of your speakers in a languid, low fi kind of way. The reverb-soaked guitars jangle, playing a very simple but effective Byrds-like melody, while the female vocalist brings the song to a beautiful climax, moving from throaty, cool rhyming to a high pitched mournful whine repeated twice over. "Louie Louie Got Married," performs the same feat once again, while the male singer recites the lyrics in a talkative, hushed British accent, the band banging away with the utmost deliberately badly recorded precision. It's a perfectly unselfconscious marriage of sounds and genders, one that comes across as deadly serious but refuses to give itself totally away. When you consider how the performers all hail from different countries -- the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States -- the whole project smacks of a new kind of punk internationalism, one which is refreshing to the jaded ears of listeners who eschew provincial, fashion obsessed revivalism in favor of something as simple as a good garage band, one which indulges all the right historical signifiers without making a big fucking deal about it.
The Touch is a K Records release