Say what you will about the homogenization or mainstreamification of a scene; those eulogies are typical, and often fairly accurate. When the cat’s out of the bag, the cat hangs out everywhere and licks its haunches and gets fat and weird and pretty soon you just kind of…feed it. The cats comprising the Sonny Smith-curated I Need You Bad compilation are fanned out across almost the entire West Coast?from Portland dude-bro garage rockers The Memories, to Tim Cohen’s dreamy SF-based Magic Trick, to recent LA-transplant Jessica Pratt?and they’re nothing if not a total antithesis to the storied tenets of sudden-exposure poisoning. The relentless thrust of core anti-hero luminaries Smith, along with the likes of Cohen, Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, has kept this mostly underground train chugging along at prolific speeds.
I Need You Bad isn’t necessarily a garage rock compilation, although that’s a convenient shortcut. Typifying the broad cross-section of the I-5 corridor community, Smith’s picks rum the gamut from introspective singer/songwriter laments from Kyle Field, more commonly known as Little Wings (“All Alone House”), to Warm Soda’s carbonated garage-pop. Probably the only thread tying these disparate tunes together is that all of them sound like they were tracked inside a bedroom.
Warm Soda’s “Tell Me in a Whisper” rings in the ruckus, delighting in sugary melodies and shaggy-headed jams of jangly guitar-pop. This track alone represents a perfect example of why comps are still such a vital enterprise; it’s an exploration into the alcoves of heretofore unknowns and reveling in finding the gems that makes the listen so worth it.
That trend continues throughout I Need You Bad. Eventually, Smith’s vaunted Sonny and the Sunsets gallop into scene with “Those Drawings I Told You About,” a ‘70s-heavy rocker that sounds about as dangerous as a lily in a field, but which outlines the nebulous terrain that Smith and his cohorts’ fancies might traverse. Equally engaging is the lo-fi lullaby “Open Theme” from Chris Cohen (Deerhoof, The Curtains), whose naptime composition is rivaled in slumbering ambiance only by the appropriately titled “Dreams” from Pratt.
In fact, insomuch as “garage rock” is often delineated as some form of fuzz-drenched happy accident, nothing on I Need You Bad could be construed as immature calamity. It is as its cover opines, “a buncha bands from Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland.” That much is for damn certain when Earth Girl Helen Brown’s “Far Away Place” shambles in like a Tracy Chapman B-side, Brown singing cheeky-fun lines like, “I wanna go so deep into space/where I can get some space.”
As a kind of Cliff’s Notes introduction to the California-Oregon underground rock tandem, this is gold.