Best Sign of Indie-Rock Life

Garage Rock
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

About three years ago, in a long article for the Awl, Matt Ealer lamented the latest waning of a D.C. punk sound that had long co-existed with the city’s austere, arty post-hardcore scene but had never managed to attain the upper hand: the gunk punks. Their last great standard-bearers were The Points—they of the fake-blood nosebleeds and turbo-Ramones rippers—and in the summer of 2010, they played their first show in months. “Honestly?” Ealer wrote of the set, the finale of the one-year anniversary party of Windian Records, the vinyl label run by Points drummer Travis Jackson. “The reunion felt like a Points cover band.”

Bummer—as was the announcement, a few months later, that The Points were done for good. But in 2013, for the first time in a lineage stretching at least as far back as Pussy Galore, D.C.’s garage-rock scene—a term generally disliked by the people it applies to, but which typically describes acts that channel the noisy, primitivist rock bands of the 1960s—is the most exciting underground rock we’ve got. See Windian, which has become a reliable home for anything loud and fuzz-soaked as well as an excavator of long-lost beer punk from the ’70s and ’80s, and Cricket Cemetery, which began a few years ago as a hardcore label but quickly widened its purview, releasing excellent, out-of-left-field full-lengths in 2012 by The Tender Thrill and Passing Phases. (The former is classicist garage rock so studied it’s surely winking; the latter is Nuggets-worthy guitar pop with a hint of raggedy college-rock jangle.)

Two doesn’t make a scene, of course, nor does seven or eight, but there’s definitely something going on: Bands like Shark Week, Foul Swoops, The Shirks, Teen Liver, and The Doozies may not share social circles or specific sonic ideas, but they all play music that’s hooky, rackety, stripped down, and urgent. Muddy your definition of garage rock even further, and you can toss in Kid Congo Powers, a veteran of L.A.’s ’80s punk scene who makes gloriously manic throwback rock with The Pink Monkey Birds, and Priests, whose art-damaged instincts suggest a deeper interest in post-punk and early industrial than, say, the MC5, but whose loud, brash minimalism has made them one of D.C.’s most interesting young bands. And anyway, garage rock is kind of like pornography: You know it when you hear it. Or as The Points once put it: “Rock! And roll! No rules!”