Bark ask, “Why would you quit now? / Why would you give it all up / All the late nights down at the rock club?” “Rock Club”, a track off the new album, Loud, from the Southern-garage-pop husband-and-wife duo from Water Valley, Mississippi, rocks along at a leisurely pace as it not only recounts but celebrates, all those sweaty nights of mostly empty clubs and bars where the aroma of stale beer and dried piss from the one restroom mixes with the rattle-and-hum from the amplifiers.
It’s a life both Tim Lee (Bass VI, vocals) and Susan Bauer Lee (drums, vocals) understand. Tim spent time as part of the power-pop group, the Windbreakers (shoulda-beens if there ever was) in the 1980s – who recorded for the venerable DB label (the launching pad for everyone from the B-52s and Pylon to Fetchin’ Bones and Guadalcanal Diary). He also authored the memoir I Saw A Dozen Faces… and I Rocked them all: The Diary of a Never Was (its graphics designed by Susan) in 2021.
The couple formed Bark in 2014, releasing Year of the Dog in 2017, followed by 2019’s Terminal Everything. Now comes Loud, their first from Dial Back Sound and Cool Dog Sound. In addition to the Lees, Loud features contributions from Drive-By Truckers‘ Matt Patton on bass and backing vocals and Jay Gonzales on keys, plus Branson Tew on guitar, and Schaefer Llana on backing vocals, while Jimbo Mathus contributes organ and tambourine.
Loud launches with the anti-hero anthem, “Love Minus Action” (“All talk and no satisfaction”), where the narrator turns Bo Diddley‘s boast of being a lover into a loser instead of a fighter. Self-loathing presents simultaneously as refreshing self-awareness.
“James Robertson Must Turn Right” is a cover of a David Olney song, one Olney performed online the day before he died of a heart attack while on stage at the 2020 30A Songwriter Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Bark drives the song on a Crazy Horse clip, trading vocals, rising in intensity, and building tension throughout, while Gonzales’ droning organ keeps everything grounded.
At its best, Loud harkens to the 1980s power pop of Let’s Active and IRS-era R.E.M. It makes sense, as Tim Lee spent time on the road with Mitch Easter in Let’s Active and the Swimming Pool Q’s. That exposure comes to bear in several of this album’s best moments and a strong seasoning of 1960s garage rock (“Black and White”, especially, benefitting again from Gonzalez’s groovy organ).
The album closes with “Present Tense”, a noisy, hypnotic, distorted tip-of-the-hat to White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground but filtered through and informed by all that’s come since, including the AM power pop of the 1970s and post-punk no-wave of the late 1970s/early 1980s. With Loud, Bark have given us their most fully realized work yet.