City Paper is not for tourists
If Black Lips ever get their own Monkees-style sitcom (and I want to believe it’s only a matter of time), there will be an episode late in Season 1 where they go to Miami to visit their cool younger cousins, played by Jacuzzi Boys. They will all cruise around town in a borrowed convertible, sneering at babies and playing gently mean-spirited pranks on the elderly as they listen to that one Monks record over and over again on their dashboard iPod hookup. They will try to pick up girls at the neighborhood pizza joint and in a moment of inspiration Jacuzzi Boys will write on a greasy napkin the lyrics to a song about their recent trip to Los Angeles (sample lyric: “Oooh, L.A./Oooh, ooh, oh-oh-oh”). At one point, one of the Lips will give one of the Boys a shiner, but nobody will stay mad—you know how boys are. At the end of the episode there will be a raucous beach party at which Jacuzzi Boys debut their new song “Crush” (sample lyric: “I found you and you’re my crush, crush, crush/Crush, crush, crush”) to which all the gently grimy, beautiful people will fall uncomplicatedly in love.
Jacuzzi Boys’ take on ramshackle garage rock isn’t a far cry from that of grungy troublemakers Black Lips or fuzz poppers Vivian Girls: The songs on the Miami trio’s second record, Glazin’, are three-chord paeans to fun, sun, and whatever else happens to rhyme with those things. (In a recent Spin interview, singer/guitarist Gabriel Alcala identified the record’s lyrical motifs as “girls and sweets.”) Call this enlightened state of being glazin’. The brazenly tuneful opener, “Vizcaya,” embodies this with caked-on distortion, buoyant handclaps, and Alcala’s salad-days sloganeering (“The sign of the times going by so slow”). Something else you should know about Jacuzzi Boys: They’re about as girl-crazy as a License to Ill novelty single, but there’s also an almost childlike sweetness to their expressions of affection. On “Crush,” Alcala tells his girl that “being with you feels like the coolest breeze.
Are you glazin’? That’s the question separating the party lines right now in indie rock, where every other new band on the scene sounds like it’s auditioning to be the house band at a punk-rock beach party that never ends. One side revels in the irresistible hooks of glazers like the sun-dappled indie poppers Best Coast. The dissidents grumble about the vacuity of it all, pinpointing the fall of Western civilization somewhere around the fifth time singer Bethany Cosentino rhymed “crazy” with “lazy” on the band’s hit LP, Crazy for You.
There is, no doubt, a certain flatness to the emotional worlds conjured by Best Coast and Vivian Girls, who carry forth the ’60s girl-group tradition of singing about little other than matters of the heart. But there’s also a history of male bias inherent in any catch-all critique of that tradition of songwriting—one that has made me hesitant to side with the grumblers in this case.
While reading ’70s rock critic and feminist writer Ellen Willis’ recently released Out of the Vinyl Deeps, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she’d accept the invitation to indie’s beachside rager. Willis once proposed a simple but great critical exercise to expose gender bias (which some people have now taken to calling the Willis Test): Take a lyric sung from a man to a woman and reverse the genders. Which makes me think she’d find the same thing interesting about this otherwise middling Jacuzzi Boys record: With its fixation with sweetness, crushes, and expressions of devotion, Glazin’ offers a refreshing complication to any stereotypes about male and female lyricists that still persist in indie rock.
Still, I know that hand-wringing about things like gender bias is a good way to get your beach party invitation revoked. Maybe Jacuzzi Boys and everyone else at the party are onto something: Occasionally, life is not that complicated. Sometimes boys and girls just want to have fun.