Tijuana Panthers - Semi-Sweet
Record Label: Innovative Leisure
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Garage rock revivalism is hella played, but few bands in the game seem truly in the spirit of their style's progenitors. However, Long Beach trio Tijuana Panthers, like Camera Obscura and labelmates Allah-Las, are an authentic throwback to an era whose sense of rebellion was innocent and rather quaint by today's standards. Their (very likely feigned) naivete will make their latest album Semi-Sweet sound either charming or terribly cloying depending on your stomach for it, but given a fair shake, whatever the band's punchy songs sacrifice to complete the sock-hop vibe, and whatever they lack in outright ingenuity, they more than make up for in sheer entertainment value.
Semi-Sweet is generally quite accessible and pop-friendly on the whole, although the very un-representative "Above Your Means" kicks it off with a shot of scuzzy No Age-esque noise. After that, it's mostly hooks and tastefully mid-fi production. "Tony's Song" rips a page or two from Black Lips' ramshackle songbook (and features characters engaging in such brazen activity as "holding hands"). "Wall Walker"'s jangly riffs evoke early R.E.M. if they had been on a tighter budget. On "Boardwalk", the Panthers prove they not only have the chops to handle the sounds of early rock 'n roll, but the nascent R&B of the era as well.
The album really hits its stride with the standout "Father Figure", an instantly memorable jaunt with snappy guitar chime, a smooth '50s teen idol delivery, and lyrics to match ("all those other kids at school saying things to get me down"). If there's a moment on Semi-Sweet that doesn't sound directly out of a time warp, at least lyrically, it's "Baby I'm Bored" ("I see the kids these days... you can't detach them from their talking devices"); though the song clearly isn't old, the band certainly sound that way. While glorifying simpler times isn't necessarily an unforgivable offense, here the Panthers take their fogeyishness slightly beyond the limits of good taste.
Semi-Sweet's missteps are easily overlooked because of what it manages not to be: another set of passable, but mostly indistinguishable, songs doctored up with just the right amount of grit and fuzz. It covers a broad range of retro styles and does so memorably. It's also not over-indulgent, with not a second of its economical twenty-eight minutes wasted and all twelve of its cuts following a similar come in, get stuck in your head, get out formula. From a pure sonic glee standpoint, Semi-Sweet offers much to like; if you wish for a return to a time when the worst thing a kid could be accused of doing was staying out past dark, well, it offers more still.