Guantanamo Baywatch – Desert Center (Ltd Amber Vinyl)
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If three is good, four must be better, right? That certainly seems to be the case for Portland, Oregon's leading band of surf punks, Guantanamo Baywatch. The group grew from a trio to a quartet during the two years between 2015's Darling...It's Too Late and 2017's Desert Center, and the result is an audibly stronger band. Group leader Jason Powell is now sharing guitar duties with Jordan Owen, and while the approach on Desert Center isn't a great deal more complex than it was before, the second guitar certainly fills out the sound, and the group sounds tighter and tougher overall in their new lineup. Bassist Chevelle Wiseman and drummer Chris Scott are a more effective rhythm section this time out, hitting harder and with greater precision, and the band's take on vintage surf sounds remains respectful while adding a few garage-centric wrinkles of their own. "Mesa, AZ" is a great tribute to a town with even fewer opportunities for surfing than Portland, "Neglect" and "Blame Myself" are slinky soul-inspired numbers that show these folks have been listening to some vintage R&B, and "Area 69" adds a sci-fi spin to GB's fifth gear reverb-soaked attack. The production is clear and full-bodied, allowing this band to make the most of their more muscular tone, and the goofball enthusiasm that informs this music is major step up from Guantanamo Baywatch's 2012 debut. The biggest flaw with Desert Center is the same as with Darling….It's Too Late -- this album is simply too short, coming to a close while the material is still hitting its stride. If Guantanamo Baywatch keep sounding this good, they should try throwing caution to the wind and deliver a whopping 40 minutes of entertainment. But as it is, Desert Center is still a quick blast of good fun, and this band's best work to date.