Dick Dale has come back as a surf-punk poltergeist and he’s possessed the souls of a few kids from Portland to do it. Just kidding –rest assured, Dick Dale isn’t dead. But after hearing the first track off Guantanamo Baywatch’s brand spankin’ new Desert Center, I had to call up the local priest. Song for song I was guilty –nine counts of greed, envy, and lust.
If you’re not familiar with Guantanamo Baywatch, hop on that surf board and get ready for one hell of a wave. Their music invokes the spirit of the nastiest surf rock out there while pairing it with an ounce of doo-wop punk. There’s a smack of love in there, right next to the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Baywatch’s latest album, Desert Center, pulls it all together for a listen that drops swim trunks and panties alike.
Desert Center kicks off with “Conquistador;” laden with guitar licks that send you back to 60’s. Add a few hand-drums and more mellow parts and the listen becomes partially refreshing. Guantanamo Baywatch isn’t just going for a look, they’re churning out genuine surf-rock.
Then, the follow-up. “Neglect,” serves as a paralleled start to the album. It stays closer to ‘swooning-punks’ more than ‘King of Surf’. The message of the song is clear right in the lyrics, “If you neglect that girl then your whole, wide, world will come crashing down.” It’s a sweet spin for punk and something new –desperately needed amongst the hoard of slackers pulling similar riffs with only half the cool. Alternating, the band picks up with another surf-driven jam session. “The Scavenger,” is deeper, driven by crashing percussion, and outlined by a dash of western-cowboy atmosphere.
Much of Guantanamo Baywatch’s Desert Center mimics this balancing act. The band takes surf on one track, adds punk the next. Neither element really ever seems to leave the other; in fact, “The Scavenger,” seems to build particularly well into its appropriately named, southwestern successor, “Mesa, AZ.” The album is perfectly designed, nine amazingly composed songs and two, well-placed interludes. By the time you finish, you’re hooked.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, Guantanamo Baywatch tosses in one hell of a serenade –“Blame Myself.” Showing off their softer side, the band kills the momentum. The track inches along as emotion lashes out in each crescendo. The song reaches its climax with a reinvigorating, super-fuzzed guitar line. The band prepares to build the album’s close. Desert Center progresses with a sudden blast, it’s “Area 69.” The song rips and tears with a series of ultra-quick lines and a slew of distorted guitar jamming alongside thunderous percussion. From serenade to full-speed ahead, it’s a wild choice and makes for an almost, radio-like listen.
Sometimes, I wondered whether the surf-rock jams were a sideshow, or if maybe it was the punk interludes. Regardless, to sleight either half of Desert Center seems like a terrible injustice. Frankly, Guantanamo Baywatch went above and beyond here. The guitar driven, surf rock jams are authentic –the doo-wop punk tracks are fresh. All the while, Guantanamo Baywatch stays a safe distance from rockabilly-gimmick. The band keeps itself distinct by balancing these two styles in perfect harmony –making Desert Center one of the most satisfying albums so far this year.
The album rides off into the distance with, “The Australian.” It’s a jangly surf jam and something of a closing anthem to a radio show. It’s a fine way to end, but inevitably leaves you itching for more –until next time Guantanamo Baywatch, until next time.
I don’t want to risk stealing Dick Dale’s thunder again, but if there’s ever going to be new Sovereign Surf Rockers, then we may as well warm the title up for Guantanamo Baywatch. Desert Center is a must-listen for rockers, greasers, surfers, and punks.