Over the course of 2019, Paste has reviewed about 300 albums. Yet, hundreds—if not thousands—of albums have slipped through the cracks. This December, we’re delighted to launch a new series called No Album Left Behind, in which our core team of critics reviews some of their favorite records we may have missed the first time around, looking back at some of the best overlooked releases of 2019.
Thank the heavens for fuzzy electric guitars.
They’re out of vogue right now, and that’s OK—fuzzy electric guitars have had more than their fair share of the spotlight over the years. But even when they’re not a foundational building block of the popular music du jour, a fact remains: the sound of a fuzzy electric guitar is a glorious thing.
For evidence, see (or, rather, hear) the self-titled debut album from Cabana Wear, a quartet who’ve been playing for years in bands around Philly and New Jersey (By Surprise, Crucial Dudes, It’s A King Thing). They’re all longtime friends and punks at heart, and Cabana Wear sounds like what happened when they looked at each other and realized they were getting older and that it might be fun to start a band focused on playing the kind of poppy rock music that reminds them of the good ol’ days.
In this case, those days are the mid-1990s, and the bands that Cabana Wear calls to mind are groups like Nada Surf, Weezer and Superdrag—acts that surfaced in the wake of grunge and were too extroverted for indie-rock and too sweet for punk. Here, the main goal is usually to pair an effervescent vocal melody with guitars that sound like they could bore a hole into the side of a mountain. Toss in a propulsive rhythm and a squealing J Mascis-style guitar solo, and you’ve got yourself a particularly modern brand of power-pop: less glam, more angst.
Against this backdrop, Cabana Wear acquits itself nicely. Without question, the band has all its pedals plugged in, as heard on the first track, “Get Well,” a three-minute chunk of hard-charging ear candy that makes liberal use of one chord as singer/guitarist Brian Mietz sings of the physical manifestations of anxiety.
That’s a recurring theme on Cabana Wear, where highlights include songs called “Scaredy Horse,” “Bother You” and “Least Comfortable Me.” The latter finds the band at its most jangly, climbing an ascending chord progression as Mietz sings, “Feeling lonesome here is what I really fear / A room full of strangers is no fun.” When they clean up just a bit, Cabana Wear recalls another Jersey power-pop giant: Fountains of Wayne.
Elsewhere, the band is never afraid to linger melodically—a trait that both differentiates their sound and gives Cabana Wear an oddly satisfying feel. Across the album, they regularly lock onto one chord and stay there for a while. And Mietz often holds notes for longer than is typical for a rock singer (as on the verses of “Always Loose”) or he’ll sing several words without changing notes (“St. Napster”). It’s an interesting technique that seems to run against the conventions of power-pop, where lively melodies rule. By contrast, Cabana Wear incorporates little elements of drone into its power-pop, and the effect is unique and beguiling.
Don’t misinterpret, however: Quality melodies run amok on Cabana Wear. Both “Green” and “Tommy” sound like Blue Album-era Weezer covering a singsong nursery rhyme. They’re earworms of the highest order. The deceptively menacing “Brewers and Connie’s” features a killer wordless chorus and one of the best bridges of 2019. And album closer “Where I Am”—the only song here longer than 3:08—is a plodding, Death Cab-style crescendo that swells into a swirl of drum beats and noise. The final minute of the track sounds like a lightning storm but feels like a warm blanket.
If that sounds like an impossible combo, it’s not. That’s just the power of fuzzy electric guitars in very, very capable hands.