Photos by Derek Perlman
Ah, California- the artistic melting pot of the US (with emphasis on the pot). The Golden State has seen the rise of some of the worlds biggest acts and most influential artists, and has fostered creatives and voices that defined their generations and those to come. Rock, in particular, and its extensive branching of subgenres, was readily adopted on the West Coast. But like every genre, there's a disparity between East and West, and being from the East myself, the Southeast specifically, I find myself having a hard time taking some of these bands seriously. Much of the stuff put out in the last several years in the area has sounded like rehashes of other formative Cali rock bands, or worse- East Coast, Australian, or otherwise region-specific styles turned sun baked stoner-rock.
Strongs Dr., the latest LP from LA-based band Strawberry Fuzz, finds itself trapped in that box. Strawberry Fuzz, hailing from The Doors' home turf of Venice Beach, is a quintet made up of singer Colby Rodgers, guitarist-keyboardist and producer of their new album Alex Arias, guitarist Kris Miller, bassist Dashel Dupuy, and drummer Andy Warren. Their latest album, subject wise, is a continuation of their first release, Fuzztapes, Vol. 1, examining "the dirty underside of LA life, exhibiting a strong, infectious breed of fuzzy Cali surf-punk with an unapologetic bite" as described by our friends over at Tell All Your Friends PR. At face value, the album is alright. High-speed and energetic on the front end, slower and more "introspective" in the back, it hits the notes necessary to in fact call it a rock album. It's not a bad album necessarily, it's just ok. It's an easy listen. Relatively consistent stylistically and sometimes a little too on the nose lyrically, which rears its head on songs like "East Of The 405" (You think you're punk?/You think you're down with the scene?) and the title track "Strongs Dr." (Another shitty song/Plays through the tv).
But the trouble begins, see, once you start to look at this album through the lens they've given themselves. "Surf-punk" is a tough genre to find yourself in when you don't necessarily write punk songs. Sure, they're not The Rolling Stones or anything, it's not like they're completely out of the wheelhouse, but they're not Black Flag either. It's hard to be post-punk in a punk scene, but it's even harder to be a surf-rocker in a post-punk scene, which is really where the toss up begins between sound and subject matter for Strawberry Fuzz. Songs like "East Of The 405" and "Talk" delve more into the social dynamics in their scene, but choose to focus in on the partying and getting fucked up and calling the poser rich kids posers, but the delivery and lyricism just make it sound like the pot calling the kettle black. But then you get songs like "Go Home Kook" and "Corner Store" and "Sugar" that really do sound like the surf-punk the band is advertised to play, but even those songs get totally blown out because of "86'd" and "Strongs Dr." which just come off as angsty and whiny and corny instead of the slow beat refreshers they're meant to be.
But in their defense, it's not their fault this album sounds like this. Rock is a tough ball to throw, especially out West. When you look at places like NYC and the greater New Jersey area, you know what sound you're going to get. There's an expected intensity from the hardcore, punk, metal, and indie scenes. You kind of have an idea what they're going to be singing about, how they'll play it, and that's because that's how that area plays that style. Same with places like Atlanta, you're going to get Outkast and you're going to get Faye Webster, that's the sound there. In Raleigh, you're getting Hootie, in Akron, you're getting The Black Keys, and in the other 15 states that make up the Midwest, you're getting some cowboy music! (Except Minnesota, they get a pass, they had Prince.) But in LA, you don't know what you're going to get, because there are so many influences and so many genres and subgenres that run through there. That's why FIDLAR sounds like Dookie Green Day, why The Linda Lindas sound like middle school Regrettes, and why god only knows how many Chili Pepper clones there are. The melting pot melts a little too hot sometimes.
But back to the main point, Strongs Dr. is pretty ok. It gets drawn out longer than it should, and it needs to narrow down its subject matter a bit, but it's alright. It's so LA- so, SO LA. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you like Cali punk bands like Black Flag or Rage Against The Machine, Strawberry Fuzz might not be for you. But Beach Bunny, Sum 41 fans, these guys might be right up your alley.