So, about this titular bubblegum graveyard: is it a purplish and pinking site of pop-cult exhumations? A teenage wasteoid haunt, all sugary soil and gee-whiz headstones in bold Archie Comics fonts? A font of low-attention-span spellcraft for the post-Buffy generation? Well, it’s more of a late summer layover magazine read, really — not quite elevating its pulpy pretext beyond a fundamental disposability. And it’s way less creepy than, say, your local wax museum (although the fun does outlast a dimestore candy haul). As a sophomore straightahead, Bubblegum Graveyard is 30 minutes of a three-piece Nuggets revival troop putting its live identity first. Damn the torpedoes and shunt the details. Unfortunately, the largely absent studio embellishments and overdubs are what flesh these excavators’ sound out and separate frontman Sonny Alexander’s cocked-eyebrow songcraft from the reconstructionist horde of barre chord brawlers.
Bloomington, IN’s Apache Dropout arrived fully formed with 2011’s lo-fi self-titled LP: devil-may-care, studied and whipsmart, loud and snotty on a propulsive bed of American garage-and-basement rock chug and shuffle. Bubblegum Graveyard’s arrangements here are largely stripped of most of the debut’s lead guitar and its endearingly cheesy organ. We can argue aesthetics and the ‘purity’ of the straight-off-the -board sound they’re going for here, but less sonic density and fewer moving parts hurt the album’s dynamic range and rhythmic interest. No space, breathing room, breaks: that’s Modern Lovers 101. The Dropouts tend to the same dynamics and tones, and even at 30 minutes, it gets a bit tedious. As of this review, they’ve lost two-thirds of their initial Last.fm audience by the Davies-esque clarity of “Hey Valentine.”
Alexander, at his best, seems to be cribbing Lou Reed’s notebook; the s/t’s “Teenager” is just right at half-too clever. Graveyard’s footlong strides in fidelity and vocal clarity come at a commensurate loss of some of the debut’s abstracted pointedness. “Archie’s Army” and, more successfully, lead single “Candy Bar” hint at an ironic embrace of the lowbrow and sub-literal ephemera, a misreading of the everyday and quotidian. Alexander offers with blithe optimism, “It’s true you can go anywhere, in fact you can go far/ I read it on the wrapper of a candy bar.” The wrapper and nougat, in turn, rejoin our narrator to take a bite. That New Weird America strangeness is a bit forced, perhaps meant to substantiate some critical connections with Barrett and The Fugs (‘lysergic’ as a descriptor usually often means you’ve either dosed yourself on the Nuggets comps or sampled an array of vintage & boutique fuzz pedals).
More consistent to forego the obtuse and revel in the gritty: “Quaaludes 68” pines for self-realization in the several-times-removed ideals of bygone drug culture, and ‘Katie Verlaine’ dabbles in the benign perversity of young romance. “Robbin’ the Banks’” key changes are headlong poppy enough to mistake The Strokes. The chops are evident: I just want to see the kind of side-to-side variety you find in, say, Ty Segall and Acid Baby Jesus, one of my faves from last year, who play with fidelity, tone, and heaviness from track to track. Did I mention I miss the debut’s organ?
Is Alexander knowingly winking at us through the garage tropes and Roky Erikson warble, suggesting that, like Archie, Veronica, and Jughead, our childhood infatuations and joys will expire, only to rise selfsame from the dead, biting at the ankles of our modern tastes? Tough to say: there’s a WYSIWYG quality to the Dropouts, a playfulness that doesn’t betray much. However, good times are good times despite the half-life, even if George Carlin is right about that second candy bar never tasting quite as good. We’d all be better off paying $5 to see these boys drop some 60s vibes at your favorite watering hole; it’s just that I’d be as likely to donate the Hamilton to a “Hire a full-time organist!” Kickstarter.