CALL THE NEW Southern California rock 'n' roll underground "Burgerlandia." For the past few years, bands in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas have been riding the bus straight back to Ridgemont High as Burger Records and likeminded labels have spawned a new generation of surf punk-loving, cassette tape-spinning Spicolis. It's a great place to be an up-and-coming garage band, with lots of small venues and tons of eager teenagers driving their parents' beat-up Volvos to shows. But this seemingly "forever teen" paradise comes with a major flaw: a nearly homogenous surf-rock sound and the fanbase to go with it.
El Segundo's Froth never exactly fit this mold. The band started as a high school joke between lead vocalist/guitarist Joo-Joo Ashworth and former member Jeff Fribourg, who talked about releasing a record that would spin for 20 minutes and not make a sound. Their 2013 debut LP, Patterns, however—released through Burger and Lolipop Records—did wind up having music on it. It was undoubtedly within the surf-rock realm, but with an eerie layer of Omnichord and swift tempo changes that signified a unique approach to the well-trod Burger sound. The group's second LP, Bleak, which Burger released in May, marked a drastic sonic shift. Froth dropped the Omnichord, added another guitar and a sampler, and through a gray, vibrating haze of shoegaze experimentation ended up creating one of the most dynamic lo-fi pop albums of the year.
"There are still a lot of punk and garage bands in LA and not a lot of bands that sound like what we're trying to do now," says bassist/sampler player Jeremy Katz. "Locally, I don't think people like it as much as the old stuff, but when we went to Europe, our tour went way better than what we thought. It's easy to think whatever happens in your hometown is what it's going to be like somewhere else."
Before recording Patterns, Katz had only been playing bass for two weeks, so Bleak comes with an additional two years of experience. Even with the same amount of band members—drummer Cameron Allen and guitarist Nick Ventura round out the four-piece—Bleak succeeds in sounding much bigger, with far more subtlety in both Froth's hissing guitar work and dark vocals. It is a prime example of a band with a deep pool of songwriting talent, learning to swim and deciding which strokes work for them.
"Besides our drummer, this was the first band for all of us when we recorded [Patterns], so we were just stoked to be in a band, while we were learning how to record and what music we liked," says Katz. "A few months after that record came out, we weren't really into garage rock as much anymore and started to hate it. We had been listening to a lot more '90s guitar rock, so we wanted to expand into the layered guitar sound. We took our time recording [Bleak], and we honestly got way better at our instruments."