By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Like a tidal wave of Sunny D, a rash of lo-fi beach pop bands has flooded the musical landscape over the past couple of years. Endlessly hooky, hopelessly poppy and undeniably likable, bands such as Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast, Smith Westerns and Wavves have also flooded year-end "Best Of" lists and iPods everywhere.
And, as every trend comes with traits shared among some (if not all) of those considered in that association, the aforementioned shiny, happy bands indeed boast a lot of similarities. Oh, sure, they don't all sound exactly the same. But most of them do boast some shared affinities.
So, if you want your band to be thrown in the pile of the lo-fi, beach pop thingamajig—or, conversely, if you want to avoid such categorization—here are a few common beach pop traits your band should keep in mind.
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Or avoid. Whatever.
It's 2011, and, y'know, it's OK for your records to sound like crap. Well, not like crap—maybe "charming" is the right word. Regardless, pretty much every modern beach band's album sounds like it was recorded by a bunch of bored friends who had nothing better to do during summer vacation than surf and write a bunch of songs about how awesome the opposite sex is—to the point where none of them ever bothered to really learn how to record a song. Decent guitar tones and drum sounds? Who cares? We're all so happy! The Smith Westerns' debut might be the biggest offender here, with their wash of reverb and tinny tones. Thankfully, they dialed things down a bit for their excellent sophomore release.
Thanks to the website LOLCats, and further evidenced by your friend's Instagram account, frisky felines have never been more popular. While this is a trend evident throughout popular culture in general these days, beach pop acts have surely embraced their cuddly friends like none other. In fact, Snacks, the cat owned by Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino, is her band's unofficial mascot. Snacks has appeared on her album cover, as well as on boyfriend Wavves' album cover for King of the Beach. Meanwhile, have you seen the video for Best Coast's "Crazy for You"? It's directed by a cat, for Pete's sake!
'60s Throwback Hooks
It's not just the purposefully spotty production and rough instrument sounds that remind listeners of a more primitive musical era with these bands. It's also the hooks they're coming up with. If they're not adding rough edges around Beach Boys rehashes, they're reminding you of every other hit on the oldies station with instantly familiar and catchy-as-heck melodies. Of course, it's not all sunshine: Dum Dum Girls, with their dark clothing and brooding appearance, serve as the worldly gang from whom the good girls stay away and after whom the bad boys lust, knowingly smacking their bubble gum as they sing their similarly sweet and sticky hooks. Kinicki woulda loved them.
'80's Throwback Fashion
Remember in the '80s, when we had clothing that would change color when you touched it? Beach pop bands do. And, really, who can blame kids for wanting to recapture those magical days of brightly colored plastic sunglasses, tight denim shorts, deck shoes and sleeveless OP shirts? Those were all awesome.
Yeah, it's easy to find a couple of things to poke fun at, and even easier to use those trends to dismiss a group of bands or movement in music. But the fact remains: These bands are churning out great records. From Best Coast to Surfer Blood, the most buzz-worthy acts of the past year have all come from this group of bands who mix a lot of the old together, recreating something that's not necessarily new, but not just an exercise in nostalgia, either.