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Guantanamo Baywatch conjures up a low-budget surf-rock party

Band plays its first Charlotte gig, guaranteed to be a sweaty, slovenly affair



Last year, more than 76,000 albums were released — which each sold at least one copy — according to Nielsen SoundScan reports. Of those sales, roughly 90 percent belonged to only 2 percent of the titles. In such a saturated market, it's hard for a new record to garner any attention. That is, unless there's a mostly naked dragon lady on the cover.

The provocative green-painted woman, clad only in pink panties and pasties, and disguised by a papier-mâché reptilian mask (with kitschy cat-eye sunglasses, natch) kneels on a zebra-print rug between two small potted palms. It's a hard image to un-see. It's also a perfect image to grace the cover of Chest Crawl, the second album of lighthearted surf-punk from the Portland, Ore., band Guantanamo Baywatch.

PARTY ROCK: Guantanamo Baywatch
  • PARTY ROCK: Guantanamo Baywatch

The Baywatch doesn't need a Humanoid-from-the-Deep pin-up to elicit a response, though. The band name does that on its own. Devised during a drunken night of spit-balling ridiculous names for a friend's 'zine, the choice has proved divisive. "Some people hate it and some people really like it," says singer/guitarist Jason Powell. "I don't know, I'm in between."

No matter how it was received, the joke was enough to kick-start the purposefully lo-fi trio of singer/guitarist Powell, bassist Chevelle Wiseman and drummer Christopher Scott. After a 2010 LP and a handful of singles and cassettes, Chest Crawl finally captures the arresting budget-surf sound the band wrangles on-stage in all its raw, blown-out excitement.

"We play with a lot of just straight-up surf bands, and they stand there and they play songs and it's awesome," Powell says from a tour-stop in Texas. "But, to me, that kind of music is party music."

Even going by the out-of-focus still shots that litter the Web, Guantanamo Baywatch shows are sweaty, slovenly affairs, often held in basements or small clubs. It's a perfect fit for The Milestone, where Guantanamo Baywatch will play its first Charlotte gig on July 7.

Chest Crawl is an affirmation of the band's good-times impulse. 2010's Postcard from The Tar Pitz, released on Hovercraft Records, was a conservative representation of the band, recorded cleanly and clearly. Powell all but disavows it today. The raw, lo-fi sound of Chest Crawl, he says, more closely matches the band's intent. "It sounds like a tape, and that was kind of the idea," he says.

The resulting 11-song album — released on the steady Portland punk label Dirtnap — calls to mind West Coast budget-rockers like The Mummies or Nobunny, with its VU-pegging all-mono production, while the sharp repurposing of '60s surf instrumentals and teen-idol pop (check the raggedly compelling cover of Paul Anka's "Diana") draws from the same trash-culture well that nourished The Cramps and John Waters.

But in the midst of the skuzzy, beach party rock 'n' roll, B-movie imagery and tongue-in-cheek band name, Guantanamo Baywatch has managed to create a total aesthetic package — one that stands out on record-store shelves. In other words, this is one album you can pretty accurately judge by its cover.

Guantanamo Baywatch with Serfs, The Vignettes. July 7. 9 p.m. $6-$8. The Milestone, 3400 Tuckaseegee Road.

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