What denotes garage music, really? Is it the way the band sounds, meaning the effects they use and the chord progressions they favor? Or that the music is itself amateurish and assumed to be made by unskilled performers? Is it that the band actually plays in a garage? Does it matter if the band has a choice in how their music ultimately ends up sounding via recording techniques and/or $$$? How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Let’s find out. As a case study I submit to you Portland’s Mister Tang.
Their new digital single “Shakin’ Bones” is a thoroughly competent amalgamation of three great garage sub-genres: surf, pop and psychedelic. Mister Tang cycles through each style of music in a series, dividing the pattern into two segments of three parts and taking the listener through each set twice. They come in on the heavy end with a garage punk riff that sort of reminds me of The Shrills–all good. Then the song segues into a psyched-out breakdown with some layered howling, also a bit Shrills-like if less overtly bizarre, before exploding into a barely concealed take on, I swear to God, “Gloria.” Doesn’t get much more garage than that. Mister Tang then circle back in on themselves for one more spin on the rock and roll mimicry merry-go-round before puttering out on the same painted pony they rode in on.
All of which is to say “Shakin’ Bones” is kind of a mess, but then most true garage music often is. However the question remains: does it work? Sadly, the same ham handed mushing of genres that makes Mister Tang a true garage band in the good sense also makes them a true garage band in the bad sense. There’s just too much going on. The overflow of ideas coupled with the overplayed guitar effects taken on top of basic unoriginality that plagues the garage genre in general makes Mister Tang come across as more amateurish than they probably are and the track more forgettable than it might otherwise be. “Shakin’ Bones” simply lacks the shambolic, stripped down, “whatever’s clever” quality of Mister Tang’s first EP, ultimately coming across as maybe, sort of, a little too serious about itself for us to take seriously. That, and the song’s nearly 4 minute running time. Sorry dudes, that’s way too long for this kind of music.
And yet, this is still rock and roll music and it is from Portland and that is a matter of great significance because OMG YOU GUYS a real live rock and roll band from PDX, not more sad ass shoegaze or soggy psych shit. That in itself is a kind of a big deal. Although I can’t give “Shakin’ Bones” my full stamp of approval, I can say with all sincerity that I’d listen to more tunes from Mister Tang in the future cuz that’s the other thing about garage bands: they get better.