Strange Boys - "Heard You Want To Beat Me Up" (And Girls Club)
Strange Boys make garage rock stripped to knuckle bones and gristle, reaching back way past the Beatles to a Chess Records-ish mash of high slide guitar, second-hand shuffles, and woeful, wandering laments. “Should Have Shot Paul,” croons Ryan Sambol, against a slack-jawed, southern soul beat, but really, you could have shot all four of the moptops and not made an ounce of difference in this blues-blistered, early rock sound. The Beatles just don’t enter into it.
Strange Boys started as a duo, just Ryan Sambol and drummer Matt Hammer, and voice/guitar/drums remains the core of this band’s strung out ethos. Sambol’s voice – and his guitar – haunt the upper sonic ranges, giving the Strange Boys a trebly, 78-archival aura. Most of the time, he sneers and slurs and sings through his nose, lines drifting off into exhausted oblivion. To this, he adds the sharp jangle of ’50s guitar, a little bit of Bo Diddley in the swagger, a little Muddy Waters in the lingering slides. Hammer does what he needs to, battering an old drum set in spiky, minimal counterpoint. This kind of music always sounds like a clock about to wind down to a stop. Whenever that threatens, Hammer slaps it awake again.
Two later additions, Sambol’s brother Phillip on bass and organ player Greg Enlow, fill out the sound somewhat, though it’s never really dense. Indeed, Strange Boys have a spectral, spooky sort of transparency. Sliding, slouching “For Lack of a Better Face” shifts like a mirage in your ears, always slithering just out of reach. Eerie, high-pitched harmonies flit in and out of range on cuts like “No Way for a Slave to Behave” and “Should Have Shot Paul”, a pencil tracing of Spector-ish-ness on see-through paper.
Strange Boys’ sound is raw and unfinished, the vocals wandering on and off key, the rhythms primitively simple, the recording low-grade and indistinct. This roughness may get in the way for the first listen or two, yet it’s part of the appeal for the long-term. Scratched up, indifferently tuned, coming in ghostly and pale like AM radio, Strange Boys’ first full-length has the banked fire of a slow burner. Put it on again and see.