Boy, keeping up with the garage revival scene is tough work. New records and long-lost reissues pop up every Tuesday; there’s all sorts of indie labels to keep track of (In the Red, Bomp!, Get Hip, Rainbow Quartz, etc.), and radio shows to listen to (you do listen to Little Steven’s Underground Garage and Danko Jones’ Magical World of Rock, right?)—it’s almost too much for one lowly reviewer to keep up with. So if it’s hard for a listener to absorb all this, imagine how difficult it is for a band to stand out on the genre. That seems to be the problem befalling Seattle quartet the Invisible Eyes, on their solid and fun, if unspectacular, debut, Laugh in the Dark.
The Invisible Eyes—guitarist/vocalist Aubrey Nehring, keyboardist Janet Hurt, drummer Adam Svenson and bassist Ian Barnett—have the distinction/honor of being the last act Bomp! founder Greg Shaw signed to his label before passing away in late 2004. It’s not hard to see what Shaw saw in the band—they traffic in fuzzed-out psych-garage, with the requisite vocal sneer from Nehring—and more often than not, they meet all the requirements for being a good garage band. On one hand, they never transcend that label, and there’s nothing to separate them from the rest of the crowded garage scene.
On the other hand, if you’re a guy or gal like me, with a shelf full of garage CDs that are fun to listen to but sort of all sound the same, and you realize and are cool with that, then clear a spot for Laugh in the Dark. (How’s that for a back-handed compliment?) Opener “Revelation”, drenched in feedback and anchored by Hurt’s insistent, vaguely menacing keyboards, sets the pace for the album. There’s the galloping “Can’t Wake Up”, which seems to borrow its beat from “Who Do You Love?” and “Tired Night”, which is much more exciting than its title suggests.
There’s a few curveballs on the disc, in the form of some quick instrumental interludes—like the oom-pa-pa “Yma”; the evil merry-go-round “Whiskey Vampire”—which cleans the mental musical palette, but basically the Invisible Eyes establish themselves as the West Coast branch of the Detroit garage scene. There’s a lot of White Stripes here (see the Jack White-esque vocals on “Monster Blues”) and even more Von Bondies—supercharged blooze stomps and guy/girl vocals abound on Laugh. Chalk it up to youth and the search for a band identity.
To that end, a few tracks on the album’s back half indicate a step away from the shadow of the Motor City. “Little Loretta” is a little rootsier, with the band catching their breath and ditching some of their feedback and drone. Similarly the six-and-a-half minute long closer, “That Old Song…” finds the band in a groove, cooking on a medium boil instead of a rolling one. With cleaned up guitars and a harmonica breakdown, it’s Laugh in the Dark‘s standout track.
Like I said earlier, Laugh in the Dark won’t look out of place in any self-respecting garage fan’s CD shelf; if anything, it’ll make an excellent placeholder for their sophomore disc, you know, the one where the band figures out who they are, what they want to sound like and how to stand out in the garage world?