by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)
The only thing more “garage rock” than the snarling punk attitude and outlandish behavior of Karen O and Craig Nicholls, proved the second new wave of DIY lackadaisicals to flow upon this century’s garage revival scene, is a barebones approach to songwriting which convinces the listener the music they’re hearing was recorded live - complete with technical errors, unintelligible banter, and bargain bin recording equipment. Labels like Matador - home to revisionist staple Turn On The Bright Lights and re-revisionist imps Harlem - lowered their standards for quality, accessible rock in step with the zeitgeist’s demand for “raw” in the early 2010s, as untrained musicians everywhere flocked to form a band.
Quietly riding in on the tail end of this new new wave, Reno duo Surf Curse released a few records in 2013 which, like their Tucson-native peers Harlem, put their city on the PBR-soaked map. By no means was it distinctive, but their music pacified its demographic with track titles rife with “bummers” and “whatevers,” as well as attributed their salvation to LA’s iconic DIY hangout The Smell. There was really nothing to denote their unique territorial locale now evocative of The Killers’ flamboyance, commandeered professional sports teams, and David Lynch’s incompetence with the simple task of ideating a normal human child’s name, but the albums matched the impetuous ennui of the era’s DIY discourse.
Four years later Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubeck are back with their proper follow up to 2013’s Buds. Released last January, Nothing Yet injects the generic garage rock energy of its predecessors with lush production and melancholic reflections on chronic time mismanagement and the inability to break free from the temptations of indolence. “Killing my time, Killing myself, Killing my friends, Oh man I'd do it again” intones a sober Rubeck exactly thirteen times in the two-minute opener, “Christine F,” as the band’s followers confirm the status of the pair’s new mental state as suggested by both members’ respective hypnagogic pop side gigs.
Subsequently, “Doom Generation” likens Surf Curse to the emotional growth of bedroom pop wunderkind Brad Oberhofer, whose recent output reflects significantly more creative depth than a kazoo solo and a Sesame Street-sanctioned passion for the letter “O” would imply. Much of Nothing Yet’s structure relies on somber guitar effects indistinguishable from those aptly employed on Oberhofer’s therapeutic capsules of longing, nostalgia, and grief, suggesting it’s not just a change in production value but a refinery of an emotional palette in the wake of genuine despair. For Surf Curse, the simplicity of the miserablist lyrics and pop instrumentation remain intact, but casual irony is swapped for critical introspection in the band’s new genetic makeup.
At a traditionally-brief nine songs, the tracklist for Nothing Yet almost works better as a Netflix queue: in addition to the drug-warped Christi[a]ne F and ‘90s queer cinema staple The Doom Generation, the band that once assigned a spoiler-filled synopsis of Fire Walk With Me to a catchy pop melody condenses the hopelessness of a seafaring Robert Redford in All Is Lost to a treatise on love and loss in the radiant (and verbose, relative to its source) cut of the same name. Meanwhile, the grotesque body horror of loaded questions, vindictive body language, and other unsightly domestic dialogues manifests itself in such tracks as “Cronenberg” and “Nostalgia,” finding heartbreaking beauty in the same gruesome language as track five’s titular David.
In Cronenbergian terms, Surf Curse is a gloomy byproduct of Nevada who dreamt they were an anonymous garage rock band and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the warm air of a lonely night in the Pacific Southwest breathes through each of Nothing Yet’s nine tracks, as Nick and Jacob emerge from the brood of ill-fitting denims to produce a totally unique radiograph of the various tumors inflicted upon them by the disparate radiations of their relationships, culture, and geographical placement. Perhaps the greatest garage rock statement yet, Surf Curse peel away their own flesh to reveal the glaring nothingness beneath.