Los Angeles garage rockers Allah-Las spent the last few weeks touring Europe. Between gigs at Utrecht’s Le Guess Who? Festival and Amsterdam’s Paradiso, the band dropped by Red Light Radio – an online radio station housed in a former prostitution window – to take over master controls for an hour-long set that showcased the band’s encyclopedic knowledge of rock’s present and past. Much has been made of the band’s formation in 2008, while three of its four members worked at longtime bastion of American musical commerce Amoeba Records in LA. Initially, it read like a convenient storyline: dudes bond over vinyl on the record industry’s most hallowed turf / dudes start band embracing the best of ’60s psychedelic garage rock / dudes cut a record / everyone loves it / The End.
Fortunately, Allah-Las LP surpasses the prosaic narrative behind its origins. The boys don’t disappoint as disc jockeys either, despite their less than magnetic on-air personalities and a fumble at the outset. Musicians are routinely asked about their influences, and we’re often fed a short list of generic responses. Here, we get to listen first hand. It’s a rare opportunity to listen to a band spin records as a group. The Allah-Las’ set leans on the oldies but peppers in a handful of new bands worth your attention as well. I was particularly taken with Gap Dream’s “Generator,” recently released on Suicide Squeeze Records. Listen to the set in its entirety below.
Written by Rob Peoni
“We live in a post-authentic world. And today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history. And at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters.”
Critics have written an understandable narrative around Allah-Las’ debut, self-titled LP that centers around an argument that the band’s sound is of an earlier era. Each review comes with a requisite laundry list of comparisons that chronicle the godfathers of late 1960s garage rock. Fellow Indianapolis writer Justin Wesley summed this up as well as anyone in his excellent review for The Silver Tongue, saying: “The songs get more lived-in with every obsessive listen; soon enough, you’re assuming a rewritten history where Allah-Las had a string of late ‘60s #1s, and you know their iconic history from Little Steven’s Underground Garage, vintage super 8 films, tell-all bestsellers and their late-career resurgence as touring relics.”
This is true. There are certainly traces of The Zombies, The Kinks, The Byrds and a litany of more obscure references in the analog production found on Allah-Las. My dispute has nothing to do with the validity of these comparisons, but rather the assumption that garage rock is something of an earlier time. For 50 years, the genre has been a mainstay in popular music, albeit with relative swells in relevance. At this point, it’s an essential element in the compound that forms our understanding of American culture. As such, bands like Allah-Las serve less as revivalists, and more as participants in an ongoing conversation.
By the same logic, we don’t consider pulling over for a roadside cheeseburger a nostalgic return to 1950s car culture. Cheeseburgers are no more of that decade than garage rock is of the one following. They’re timeless – part of our DNA. It just so happens that Allah-Las is no ordinary debut, characterized by a romantic sloppiness and an excess of fuzz. It’s informed, polished, and deserving of consideration with artists whose work defined the genre, which makes the comparisons all the more tempting.
The songwriting is as timeless as the tube amps that carry it to fruition. On the murder ballad “Busman’s Holiday,” lead singer Miles Michaud crafts a tale of a soldier’s return home to discover his woman in the arms of another man. The storyline is as readily applicable to 1945 or 1975 as 2012. Women are everywhere on this record. “Catalina” contains all of the crystallized regret of The Stones’ 1971 classic “Dead Flowers.” Follow-up “Vis-A-Vis” is a meditation on the sweet, innocence of young love and the pangs of longing that an old photo can inspire. Even the Spanish-tinged instrumental “Ela Navega” calls to mind a tipsy tango in the courtyard at dusk.
Garage rock may not be as cerebral as jazz or as old-timey as the railroad songs that inspired Dylan, but for those of us under the age of 60, this sound is as much a part of our heritage as anything created in the public houses of New Orleans or hills of Appalachia. Grab Allah-Las’ self-titled debut on CD or vinyl from your local record store. Download via iTunes.
Written by Rob Peoni