Like it or hate it, it's hard to debate one key fact brought up by Ben Westhoff: "...most of today's 20 and 30-something bands from Silver Lake and Williamsburg sound shockingly similar. They're all playing variations of retro garage and soul music." (My take on the list? You don't get to laugh at anyone else if you don't laugh at yourself.)
Los Angles-based Allah-Las could fall easily into the nebulous "hipster" category. The band's forthcoming self-titled debut on über-cool L.A. label Innovative Leisure (due out Tuesday, September 18) indeed mines the dusty grooves of forgotten vintage garage and soul records, played by scruffy, good looking kids.
But if hipster means mediocre, boring, or lacking in captivating atmosphere, count Matthew Correia, Miles Michaud, Pedrum Siadatian, and Spencer Dunham out. Their full length debut, recorded with soulster Nick Waterhouse, rolls with roughed up takes on Byrdsian jangle, broke-down R&B, and slacker surf lull.
"We share a lot of the same appreciation for how things were done back in the day in terms of analog recording," Siadatian says of Waterhouse. "Our first record, our first '45 [featured] no digital recording [and] hand-stamped letters on the labels. Just little stuff like that that we both have an appreciation for."
The retro fetishism might sound like a "hipster" hallmark, but the analog warmth fits the songs like a broken-in leather jacket: "Catamaran" stomps like a Nuggets outtake from some frat-rock combo, "Ela Navega" rides a sublime Latin beat, "Catalina" excludes psychedelic charm not unlike early Fleetwood Mac's most ethereal moments.
Siadatian says it's no elitist tendency -- the band doesn't take up the analog cross as a matter of principle. It's a simple aesthetic choice. "I think [analog recording] is better for what we're doing," he says. "Digital recording totally fits other styles of music, and even better fits other styles of music, but playing rock 'n' roll the way we want it to sound, I feel like analog better suits it, [and] makes it sound better."
The mythic tale extends to the band's origin story, which finds the group uniting in the backroom of Amoeba Records in Hollywood, a giant temple to vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and various physical musical ephemera. Siadatian worked spent a lot of time swapping out stained, dusty old jewel cases for clean new ones in the Amoeba warehouse, affording him hours to listen to whatever struck his fancy. The catholic taste extends to the music of Allah-Las.
"I really got well versed in [garage]," he says of his time in the record store, "but I really got into world stuff I may not have been exposed to otherwise, plus soul, R&B, and folk. I'd sit at a desk and put [discs] in nice clean jewel cases for hours - I did that for a year - so while you're doing that you get to just listen to used stuff that comes in. Me, Matt, and Spencer all had to do that for a period, and we got to listen to a lot of stuff."
Record stores, hand-pressed vinyl, antiquated spools of magnetic tape -- it seems perfectly acceptable to write the Allah-Las off as some sort of "hipster" mirage.
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But the record works as something of a cautionary tale to "buzz band" weary listeners, sick of "who's next" hype and over-saturated Spotify playlists: get too cynical and you might miss out on a record as great as Allah-Las.