“Keep it simple stupid.”
That’s the advice Joe Bradley of the Black Lips offers early on in New Garage Explosion: In Love With These Times, a documentary by Aaron Brown and Joseph Patel about the last decade’s garage rock scene (Ed. note: quote originally incorrectly attributed to Cole Alexander). Those four words manage to sum up the scene (and film) better than I could, but I’ll give it a shot.
The garage rock profiled in New Garage Explosion harks back to punk’s origins, not the hardcore punk of blackshirt mosh pits. It’s punk filtered through 50s rock’n’roll, 60s bubblegum pop, and 70s psychedelia. It’s also very much a regional movement: cities like San Francisco, Brooklyn, Memphis, Detroit, and Atlanta have their own scenes, bands, and sounds, but are all united by a brash, punk attitude and a DIY spirit.
New Garage Explosion documents the pillars of garage: the influences, the lo-fi recording process, the financial realities and the lifestyle. The film is interspersed with performances, rarely showing too many talking heads before getting back to its core: the visceral live performance of garage rock. Missing is the narrative of great documentaries: the audience is following one band’s experience, but rather the entire experience. It’s a cut-and-paste, film-as-zine approach that suits the topic.
Fans of any of the bands shown (Black Lips, Magic Kids, Vivian Girls, Smith Westerns, Davila 666, to name a few), will probably discover a new band, classic record, or groundbreaking record label from watching New Garage Explosion. Like the characters in High Fidelity, the interviewees relish the chance to list favorite obscurities. There is a record-store-nerd current throughout the film that anyone who has spent time in a cultural/musical underground will appreciate.
Sadly, the specter of Jay Reatard looms over the film. The film’s first case study died after an accidental overdose at just 29. On stage and off, Reatard was antagonistic and self destructive, but with a self-awareness evident in his interviews. Chillingly, he remembers punk rock records made by “dudes that kinda did make it… and then they fucking threw it all away and made these amazing albums on their downward spirals.” As he trails off, he references his prophetically titled Watch Me Fall. Unfortunately, understanding history did not prevent Reatard from repeating it.
New Garage Explosion is a brief (only 75 minutes long) introduction to a scene that is very much alive. The film features a brief section on the cycle of buzz band hype, asking “What does it take for a band to have lasting power?” Maybe that means taking Joe Bradley’s advice.