Graded on a Curve:
The Tremolo Beer Gut, You Can’t Handle…The Tremolo Beer Gut

Copenhagen, Denmark’s The Tremolo Beer Gut describe their sound as Surf & Western. That means not only do they emphasize the twang, but they burrow deep into the pasta variations of cinematic oaters. You Can’t Handle…The Tremolo Beer Gut is the band’s fifth studio full-length but first in six years, offering 16 cuts and a load of guest spots. While the sound can be assessed as unapologetically retro, there is a high level of smarts enhancing the sharpness of attack. As with their prior output, the Crunchy Frog label is handling this release in Europe, but in the USA, it’s coming out on June 18 via the combined efforts of MuSick Recordings of Los Angeles and No-Count Records of Seattle.  

Although I remain appreciative of bands that are dedicated to roots styles and general R&R simplicity this deep into the 21st century, I will confess to approaching the fruits of their labor with varying degrees of trepidation, as disappointment frequently arises. But it’s not a total wasteland. Preferable are the raunchier and more destructive approaches, but occasionally, a well-honed act acquits themselves through astuteness and sheer energy.

So it is with The Tremolo Beer Gut, who, save for the infrequent hoop, holler or repeated phrase, is an instrumental outfit that was founded by Jesper “Yebo” Reginal and Sune Rose Wagner back in 1998. Some may recognize Wagner’s name from The Raveonettes, whose popularity required him to step away from the Gut, with the lead guitar duties then assumed by producer The Great Nalna. He’s still in the band along with guitarist Jengo, bassist Per Sunding, and Yebo on drums.

However, this LP’s “Hot! Hot! Heatwave!” features some guitar playing from Wagner, his presence likely to deliver an added treat for fans after the long wait for this new record. And as the intensity of the track’s chiming motions rises, the thrust gets further boosted by the guest vocal interjections of Flavia Couri and Martin Couri, the duo that comprises contempo Danish-Brazilian guitar-drum bashers The Courettes.

When browsing shelves overstuffed with platters by currently active retro-minded units, the company an outfit keeps can be useful in deciding whether to unsnap the change purse and commit to the purchase. So it is here, with The Courettes joined in the contributor column by Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez, they of Pussy Galore and Boss Hog, utter scuzz-rock royalty whose vocal banter injects a little ’60s discotheque flair into the decidedly surfy “Hey Hello.”

There’s also Evan D. Foster of The Sonics and The Boss Martians adding a throaty spoken vocal to “Jive Jimmie Juma,” but at this point it’s important to note how You Can’t Handle…’s guest spots are ultimately just part of the album’s overall weave. That is, the extra help might entice a few newbies to take the plunge, but the record strikes me as strong all the way through and well-suited for complete spins rather than the cherry picking of tunes.

Still, there are a few select tracks of note, one that is kinda expected and a couple that are far less so. The former is a tribute to the great Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, who passed in July of last year. The appearance of “Memento Morricone” is unsurprising due to how The Tremolo Beer Gut have integrated spaghetti western ambiance into their post-Duane Eddy scheme of things.

What’s impressive is how the track avoids the triteness that commonly afflicts spaghetti western-style borrowings, a tendency which has been frequent on the international scene since the ’90s. Part of the reason for the Gut’s success derives from how they are a legitimately cinematic combo (please see this set’s “Live at the Slow Club,” which is a nod to Lynch’s Blue Velvet) rather than a bunch of schmoes cheaply reaching for widescreen scale.

On the pleasantly unexpected side of things is a reading of Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1” that sounds like an early ’60s one-off collab between Dick Dale and Joe Meek, but my favorite cut on the record is a sweet cover of Os Mutantes’ “A Minha Menina” that retains the original’s fuzz guitar line and benefits from Flavia Couri’s vocals.

While this review covers less than half of this album’s tracks, the omissions shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on quality but instead simply reflects that The Tremolo Beer Gut stay the stylistic course of Surf & Western. This tactical discipline is mirrored in how their records have maintained the same sleeve design since their debut 45, as only the color and title have changed. Stubbornness of approach in art is often portrayed as a fault, but when the sounds are raw and retro, a refusal to modernize can become a positive attribute.

And as mentioned above, astuteness and energy in stripped-down music can sometimes provide an against-the-odds winning combination. But the presence of both elements is essential, for when covering territory this well-traveled, obvious enthusiasm is almost never enough. Savvy maneuvers are necessary to put it all over the top, and You Can’t Handle…The Tremolo Beer Gut has more than a couple.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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