BY MATTHEW HENGEVELD Returning with pounding lo-fi neo-surf-rock, the Growlers create a little brother for their 2009 psychedelic monster, Are You in or Out? The brand-new EP, Hot Tropics, sounds like a collection of B-sides from the Growler’s debut— but that’s not a bad thing. They’ve patented a new brand of hypnosis in their rehashing of surf-rock and drugged-out droning.
I found these guys in the The State Theater lobby at Penn State, schmoozing with the college students. Just about to open for Dr. Dog, they wanted to sell a few discs before getting on stage. The South Cali band got on stage with lead singer clad in a moo-moo and large 50s housewife wig. “Oh boy,” I thought, “Penn Staters don’t take kindly to quirky opening bands.” I hoped nobody would boo. Booing always makes me feel kinda itchy and awkward. I was caught off guard, because this opening band was superb. Fucking impeccable, in fact. It was surf-rock, but it lacked the electric obsession. The most prominent instrument was the booming tom that threw the crowd into minor hysteria. Vocals were heavily distorted, and difficult to understand, but the voice reminded me of a mixture between Jim Morrison and Gary Wilson. I sent a text message to my friend asking him to seek out the band, in case I somehow forgot the name. The Growlers…. The Growlers! Don’t forget the name, imbecile!
The Growlers are at-home in the underground psychedelic movement of the 60s. The movement was fun and organic, yet wrought with gimmicks that marked bands as a one-trick-ponies. Though, I wouldn’t go so far as to define anything the Growlers do as a “gimmick.” They have knack for altering their instrumentation mid-song, giving the illusion of a briefly sped-up tempo. This technique is most prominent in “Something, Somewhat Jr.” from their debut— though it’s evident in most of their songs. As far as gimmicks go, this really pales in comparison to the 13th Floor Elevator’s fascination with the electric jug. And people fucking loved those guys.
The sextet may be attempting to shake-up their drug-laden image with Hot Tropics. The album kicks off with “Graveyard’s Full,” an up-tempo anthem describing the hopeless lot of human beings. It doesn’t fall flat, but I don’t think many people listen to the Growlers for social commentary beyond the undeniable need for opiates. It gets better from there; songs are short and easily digestible. At no point did the album bore me. Easy-going guitars drive the mid-tempo track, “The Moaning Man From Shanty Town,” dragging the singer behind in a mopey, droning and improvised-sounding performance. “Sea Lion Goth Blues” offers some strange introspection concerning death and roses that may or may not be set upon your grave behind a busy combination of booming toms and shakers. “Let it be Known” raises the keyboard to a heightened prominence in the track and features vocals that depend on inflection rather than content. Despite being a crazed group of eclectic goof-offs, Hot Tropics proves that the Growlers are a disciplined band. They have confidence despite their limitations as a band teetering between novelty and finesse.