On their debut, …and Girls Club, Austin, Texas’s the Strange Boys tapped into a punk swagger that drove their tunes along. The sound aligned them with a number of other garage rock bands wandering the indie rock landscape these days. In fact, the Strange Boys matched up well with peers like Black Lips, because they seemed to have a more earnest R&B thump to their jagged sound.
But with Be Brave, they wander off that garage rock path. It’s a good move, since the popular surge of that genre is bound to collapse soon enough. Plus, that whole bunch of youngsters is constantly eating the dust of better veteran groups like Reigning Sound. So the Strange Boys are striking out on new ground here, and sound less like the kids blowing fuses at their parents’ houses, and more like an older, looser rock band. The kind that might get berated by folkies at Newport.
That’s not to say that the Strange Boys sound much like early-electric Dylan. Not at all, actually. But their rock roots run deeper in the loose jangle of Be Brave. They’ve slowed things down and let their guitars throb with reverb. They’re no longer interested in kicking up dust, but instead look to coat everything in a thick layer of it. Opener “I See” makes their new, rugged path plain with its ringing chords and harmonica drifting around Ryan Sambol’s raspy vocals. The title track is a Stones-y bit of blues rock, and when Sambol howls in the chorus — “I gotta be brave!” — the band is at their most charming and energetic.
These guys hit their stride with this new sound in the middle of the record. Organs swirl around the bright pop of “Friday in Paris”, while “Between Us” is the slowest shuffle on the record, but the space works for the drifting guitar riffs and clanging cymbals. “Da Da” is perhaps the best song of the lot, channeling just a touch of their punk energy and dragging it through lean southern rock mud.
There are, however, growing pains to be found on Be Brave. Their new path is commendable, and often rewarding, but they’re still getting used to it. In some spots, slowing things down reveals some lyrics that have trouble filling the space and, in some places, they are awfully clunky. The trudging first half of “A Walk on the Bleach” makes awkward reference to slave trading. And, in the otherwise great “I See”, there’s troubling logic behind the lines, “Tonight’s dinner is tomorrow’s shit. So enjoy it before it stinks.” Those moments are about as far off the mark as the album gets, and there are a few other better intentioned and smaller misfires. “Laugh at Sex, Not at Her”, is a charming post-party story, but the delivery is just a little off-kilter. Similarly, “Dare I Say” is a good attempt at an acoustic number, but Sambol’s creak doesn’t fit without those dusty riffs.
So it’s not all perfect on Be Brave, but when it works, it works really well. This is a nice step out for the Strange Boys, and sounds at points like it could lead to a creative and unique sound for these guys, one that might have a bit more breadth to it than their previous work. So while the consistency isn’t there yet, if they even do get there, this new direction could take them far.