Album review: Pussywarmers and Réka – I Saw Them Leaving

by Thomas Blake

Some time ago garage rock stopped being rock music made in a garage and became rock music that merely sounded like it was made in a garage. A little after that it changed again, so that the whole genre is now essentially a record label construct, an image. Garage rock has moved from the garage to the studio and from the studio to the pages of glossy supplements. It is easy to lay the blame at the door of pretty-boy post-grungers like the Strokes or grudging aesthetes the White Stripes. But those guys had great tunes. The real problem lies with the hordes of snappily dressed young men with scuzzy guitars queuing up to get their song on the next advert for Chrysler or Apple. If I had my way they’d be put in the stocks and pelted with hair product.

For that reason it’s easy to be dismissive of any contemporary band described by the press as having an authentic garage rock sound. But Pussywarmers, believe it or not, do actually have an authentic garage rock sound. You know, like proper garage bands. Like The Sonics or Nazz or The Kingsmen. It’s all due to their winning mix of unsophisticated artlessness and a pick’n’mix approach to their influences. On I Saw Them Leaving they have employed the help of Hungarian singer Réka in a move that seemed designed to draw comparisons with The Velvet Underground’s début, and indeed there are a few moments when the guitars get just about minimal enough to take you back to New York circa 1967. But for the most part its less Lou And Nico and more Lee and Nancy, albeit a very underproduced Lee and Nancy with roots spreading as far as central European folk music, early rock’n’roll and burlesque.

From the off there is an optimism to the sound that renders these songs catchier than perhaps they should be, given the mish-mash of influences. Under The Sea’s wobbly guitars are anchored by feel-good fifties doo-wop backing vocals. This Town gives it the full garage workout, Réka working up a hearty wail which is mirrored in the Count Five-style guitar solo. Then some kind of mariachi horn gets going and weirdness is resumed. Something You Call Love is slight but incredibly moreish, Réka’s backing vocals imparting and effortless coolness to proceedings. 

Throughout the album we encounter fried psych-beat (Sunrise), oddball surf pop (Young Men Leaving) and best of all Looking Over’s mildly absurd space-pop, where organ, guitar and Fabio Pozzorini’s vocals come together in a surprisingly focussed finale. As catchy, cool and kooky as this is, you feel it’s never going to be used to sell smartphones or soundtrack the London Fashion Week. And for that alone it comes highly recommended.