I can’t quite shake this nagging feeling inside me about Washington D.C.-area garage rockers, the Carlsonics. All the elements for a strong full-length debut are in place—they’ve got the right attitudes (hipper-than-thou, manic), influences (Stooges, New York Dolls, Hives), and musicianship (they can make a lot of noise come out of their guitars)—so why am I not more excited? Because the Carlsonics, in their effort to look the part, forgot to write any memorable songs on their self-titled debut.
It’s chic to overlook musicians cribbing from their spiritual forefathers (and perhaps more so on the garage rock scene). I’m cool with that, because, hey, everybody’s got a record collection and influences, but that’s doesn’t excuse lackluster songs. On “The Leisure Class”, lead singer Aaron Carlson makes like New York Dolls’ frontman David Johansen after a glam-ectomy (which is not to say Buster Poindexter), while guitarist Ed Donahue whips up an agreeable-enough fuzzy stomp behind him. It sounds like no other band and every other band all at once. Other watered-down tributes include the darker “Six Second Kayaking”, which channels the Hives’ paranoia (“They know who you are man / You’ve always been seen”), and the Mod-esque “I Dig the Bushwack” and “Tonight We Dine on Fumes”, the latter of which features some dive-bombing guitar riffs from Donahue.
The Carlsonics are that annoying guy on your dorm room floor, freshman year of college, who makes it a point to tell everyone how much more he knows about music than everyone else, always making allusions to, say, Raw Power (the Stooge-ian “Fucked Up and Out of Line”) and old-school Stones (check the Sticky Fingers-aping liner notes photo and an if-Richard-Linklater-designed-Their Majesties Satanic Request-album-cover group photo). Ultimately, yeah, it’s harmless, but irksome—couldn’t the Carlsonics put all that knowledge and ability to better use?
Non sequitur song titles like “Six Second Kayaking”, “Senator Trudge and the Clap Division”, and “Malaria Drive Through” all represent tunes that have little to say and, despite plenty of strong riffs (I never said these guys couldn’t play), nothing sticks in your brain. There’s a few near-transcendental moments on The Carlsonics—“Ice People”‘s why-can’t-it-be-1974-forever guitar pyrotechnics, the surf inflections on “Courage”—but not enough.
The press packet accompanying The Carlsonics talks up the band’s revered stage shows. I have no doubt that these guys kick ass live. But can’t the same be said for the countless bar bands with more chops than the Carlsonics who didn’t happen to be in the right place at the right time when a record label came calling? Having been one of those aforementioned annoying guys in college, I would love to shoot the shit with the Carlsonics and swap old Gang War bootlegs; I’m just not in any rush to put their CD into heavy rotation.