Allah-Las – Allah-Las
Los Angeles quartet the Allah-Las have the most perfect of backstories for a group making such informed, articulate pop music. Three of the group’s members met while serving time at the legendary LA record store, Amoeba, one of the best ways to learn your craft and do your listening, all while getting paid to schlep CD cases and LP sleeves into the aisles and across the counter. They’ve been playing together since late 2008, slowly chipping away at a vision that’s equal parts genteel psychedelia, ’60s beat movement, and softly strummed, post-Byrdsian jangle-pop.
You’d be correct in thinking that’s not an under-populated field right now. One of the more surprising things about underground music at the moment, particularly in America, is the rise of fragile gangs who pledge allegiance to the fundamental tenets of the garage. Whether it’s Sic Alps with their fractured pop poetics, Ty Segall’s riotous beat mantras, the schizoid styles of Thee Oh Sees, or the more DIY/punkish takes of the likes of TV Ghost and Tyvek, this music’s on the rise again. (The connection is more than aesthetic – Segall, very much the poster boy for this ’60s re-up going down in the American underground, plays drums on the first album for Allah-Las producer and R’n’B revisionist Nick Waterhouse.) More and more, this move feels like a response to the fly-by-night hype stylings of blog culture; an oppositional turning back of the clock, similar to the way groups like The Fuzztones, The Barracudas, The Stems and The Pandoras mined the ’60s for base material, to counter the plastic aspirationalism of the ’80s mainstream.
Waterhouse’s presence is crucial here, producing the album, recording the group at the Costa Mesa recording studio The Distillery, and getting these 12 songs down with period-piece perfection. If other artists, like Segall or Sic Alps, dirty up the signal with blocks of fuzz and noise, often recording primitively to allow for all kinds of happy accidents, the Allah-Las are more stylised, less about the incidental. Everything here feels adeptly placed and paced, just the right production touches to drop the listener down in some surf/garage-rock haven. There’s a risk this kind of devotion can dovetail to parody, and there are already interviews out there where the group talk about needing to use the right microphones from the era to accurately capture their sound. This way lies Lee Mavers of The La’s and his need for “’60s dust” on studio equipment.
It’d all be annoying if the songs weren’t so unrelentingly great. If Allah-Las have learnt one thing, it’s how to capture the essence of the times they’re so besotted with, how to distil (no pun intended) the art and craft of the songwriting of that era. “Vis-A-Vis” starts by channeling the purist jangle of the feyest of the C86 groups, who were themselves gesturing back to The Byrds and Love, before glinting tambourines and softly pattering cymbals and snares guide a sun-kissed melody off into the water. Elsewhere it’s even more blatant: the opening trio of “Catamaran”, “Don’t You Forget It” and “Busman’s Holiday” feel like they’ve dropped straight from a Pebbles, Rubble or Teenage Shutdown compilation, the dinkiest of guitar solos clamouring for attention among clipped barre chords, foot-shuffling maraca, honeyed harmonies, and spindly, reverbed-out guitar riffs.
There’s always a chance that this kind of willful revisionism can go poorly: bad songs, bad production, the wrong feel, the wrong ideas. But the Allah-Las get things right, and beyond that, they’d be great songwriters even if you stripped everything back to its core, without the of-their-time production flourishes.
The only real concern is that these kinds of records are often one-shot deals – groups make a statement with, and channel all their energies and ideas into their first album, and then things get real tired real quick by the second effort. The test for Allah-Las will be what they do next. For now, though, this self-titled debut is a joy.
Rating: 8 / 10