By Gene Wagendorf III
At the time of writing this "review" (god that sounds so pompous. Who the fuck am I?) it's only 43 degrees outside and this morning there was snow falling. Actual fucking snow, after it was 90 out just a few days ago. The only thing keeping me warm is this record, so thanks to Slushy for helping me maintain some level of sanity on this (hopefully) last 'fuck you' from winter.
Slushy's debut full-length, a much anticipated slab of wax that the band has been building towards over the last few years. Longtime fans might recognize a couple of the songs on this LP from the band's old Bandcamp demos, but these new recordings finally give the tunes the treatment they deserve. For those not familiar (where have you been?), Slushy is a two-piece garage rock group that combines the sunny, fuzzy powers of singer/guitarist Chris Kramer and singer/drummer Brent Zmhral. They've been a constant fixture on the Chicago scene since 2010, releasing a handful of tapes and 7-inches via Manic Static, Tripp Tapes and Randy Records.
"Now I Need You" kicks things off with a striking combination of almost melancholy lyrics, stomping percussion and crackling chords. Kramer sounds more confident as a vocalist in these two minutes than on almost any previous recording, and he does so without losing a drop of the natural cool his croons often carry. "Summertime Girls" follows up with an equally infectious chorus, complete with a bevy of woo-hoo-oo's that'd be at home pouring from a sun-bleached transistor radio. The Slushy Formula of Ramones-jams-meets-60s-pop (ala The Beach Boys and early Beatles cuts) is executed perfectly on Pastime Gardens, and especially on "Montanaro." The jangling homage to Uh Bones/Why Pick On Me? rocker Joe Montanaro is the kind of catchy that worms itself into your earhole to lays eggs and you don't mind at all.
The middle portion of Gardens contains a healthy dose of reverb-heavy jams, and while a couple of them sort of blend together, there are more than a few standouts. "She's Going Away Now" is an incredible amount fun for a breakup ballad, yet it unfolds with a desperate, magnetic urgency. Here Kramer is at his highest level of Joey Ramone and it works flawlessly. The listener never really has a chance to be bummed that "she's" going away because there's a rumbling, twinkling rock 'n' roll tune to keep the mood up. That levity makes the song's end even more powerful; when Kramer's vocals start to splinter into echoes the guitar warbles out and just like that- "she's" gone. Zmhral guides the action on "Television," accenting Kramer's licks with some smartly-timed punches before pushing the song forward into another two and a half minute bopfest.
Pastime Gardens wraps up as strongly as it begins, with a trio of tunes that showcase the the duo's best work-to-date. "Teenage Frankenstein" is perhaps the record's highlight moment- a chugging rocker with a white hot lead guitar that'd sound as good live as it would pouring out of your get away car's speakers. By the time "Frankenstein" climaxes Slushy gives the listener all of four seconds to recover before the bass and tambourine thump of "Done With Fun" kicks in. Another uber-catchy pop-rock hit, "Fun" plays out like the anthem of a cotton candy addict on the way to rehab- that is before Zmhral conjures up a tantrum on his drums and the singer relapses into a fit of shouting "fun" repeatedly, backed by some more woo-oos.
The placement of "Done With Fun" as the second to last song on Pastime Gardens is perfectly hilarious in its own right. The feedback eventually fades to silence, making way for the starkly bright and clean chords of "Reverberation." Easily the longest song on the album at almost five minutes, it sounds much more like a nod to The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" than anything resembling the aforementioned Slushy Formula. If Kramer and Zmhral are having as much fun as their music would lead you to believe, this is the sound of their hangover. It's a slow build that oozes as much cool as anything Slushy's done previously, but it's a definitively more somber flavor. It also puts to rest any notion that these guys might be one trick ponies (though even if they were, it's a hell of a trick).
'Pastime Gardens' is available on [fancy colored] vinyl and cassette via Grabbing Clouds Records and digitally via the band's Bandcamp. Chris Kramer of Slushy plays Young Camelot on 5/17 with WCR favorites Shiloh, Honey Hole Johnson, The Irenes and Teleporter. In the meantime, check out "Teenage Frankenstein" below.