Tijuana Panthers mix surf, garage, and punk rock to mostly great effect. Except when they rely on the same exact mix for a few too many songs.
Tijuana Panthers's latest album finds the California trio continuing to mix elements of punk, garage rock, and classic surf rock sounds into a stew that feels alternately tension-filled and easygoing. Opener "Four Horsemen" hits the tension hard with a minor-key bassline buttressed by a spare guitar riff. The paranoid chorus consists of a heavier punk guitar and bass parts and vocals that just shout "Watch out!" repeatedly. Third track and lead single "Cherry Street" shows off the band's lighter side, with a catchy, singsong guitar riff in the verses that dominates the whole song. And this is despite a chorus that talks about "Cherry Street Donut Shop / Something's wrong in the parking lot."
Despite the relatively thin production on Wayne Interest, the band is savvy enough to know how to highlight their melodies. Most of the time those melodies come courtesy of guitarist Chad Wachtel's open, chiming surf-rock riffs, but occasionally it's one of Daniel Michicoff's basslines and every now and then a vocal hook. The straight-up surf-punk of "Fired" is driven by one of those melodic basslines in the verses, but the speak-sung lyrics about a man knowing he's about to be fired are particularly memorable. Especially the harmony-backed chorus that shouts "I'm gonna get fired! / Fired today!"
This is a record that goes full bore until track 7, "NOBO", which sees the band trying a ballad, complete with backing keyboards on the refrain. Michicoff sings about dating a femme fatale but can't help asking her, "Where do you get your money?" even though he clearly knows he shouldn't. It's a nice change of pace, complete with successive laid-back guitar and bass solos that fit in perfectly with the groove of the song. "NOBO" lets the album open up a bit, and "7th Seal" and the '50s 6/8 doo-wop closer "Car Crash" try similar slower tempos with much success. "Car Crash" in particular, tells a spoken word story backed by music that feels perfectly suited to the '50s, with big, echoey drums, piano chords, and arpeggiated guitar.
Unfortunately, by the time Tijuana Panthers get around to "Car Crash", Wayne Interest has begun to wear out its welcome. Although the back half of the album includes the aforementioned change of pace songs, that still leaves five more uptempo garage-surf-punk tracks to get through. At 42 minutes and 14 songs, this is an album that could've chopped a good two or three tracks and felt much tighter. Songs like the catchy "Time" and the punker than usual "Reaction" are pretty good, but not significantly different from earlier material on the album, and the practically tuneless title track "Wayne Interest" easily has the worst vocals on the record. The only exception to this fatigue is the penultimate song, "Money Jar", which has a thick, fat bass sound and a swaggering vocal performance that makes it completely compelling.
The band does leave on a good note with that one-two punch of "Money Jar" and "Car Crash", which makes up for a lot of the fatigue the listener feels on the back half of the album. But the band seems to do better when it tries on slightly different styles. Wachtel's guitar riffs and Michicoff's basslines are clearly the band's best features, and whenever the two manage to hit on catchy interlocking melodies, the songs take off. When the group relies on their mostly average vocals or punk energy to sell a song, it's a much harder row to hoe. Wayne Interest is a solid album for Tijuana Panthers, but it feels like it was a couple of songs or decisions away from being a very good album.