The lo-fi surf revival is everywhere, even Milwaukee. Amateur Artist, straight from Wisconsin, slapped some righteous waves on the front cover of Southside Throwbacks. All the reverb-drenched guitars and fuzzy vocals you’d expect from a bunch of California kids are here, even though they’re coming from a Great Lakes city that will reach 10°F in January. Despite copping the look though, Amateur Artist does the style well enough to use the imagery.
The first record coming from this one-man bedroom project, Southside Throwbacks has the authentic attitude that such DIY productions need to not sound like, well, a kid in a bedroom. If anything, the consistent execution of the genre’s hallmarks is a double-edged sword—you’ve certainly heard dozens of records like this one so it may run a bit stale for you, but it at least keeps up with the pack in terms of production and vibe.
“Rocket Honey” kicks off the five-song collection, with a classic kick-snare-snare-kick-snare drum pattern that’s been standard issue since at least the ‘50s. There’s some talk in the lyrics of seeing rock n’ roll shows and driving around afterwards with the titular ‘honey,’ which is all pretty straightforward and evocative. The vocals, too, are spot-on, hitting that affected low-register croon the material calls for. Some songs just sound like singles, and this is one of them.
“Better One” has a classic ballad feel, with arpeggiated guitar and splashy cymbals. This is the song that made me feel most like Southside Throwbacks is a bit redundant—everything about it is well-executed, but it felt like listening to a song I’d heard so many times before. The track comes from the most familiar of rock music templates though so I can’t be too critical, especially when vocals, instrumentals and production all lock in so smoothly.
Though “Waze” is good, stomping fun, and has an excellent dynamic build towards the end, I found “Off the Rail” to be the most interesting of the middle tracks. At this point the band started borrowing from slightly further out of their surf rock core. Heavily chorused guitars a la Wavves bring a more modern feel to the track, and the shuffle beat gives it a propulsive energy that I’d been looking for on the record. There’s also a great guitar solo—there’s actually great guitar work all over Southside Throwbacks, but the faster tempo really put this one over the top.
“Winifred” rounds out the record, a lighter-waving anthem that borrows the tried-and-true “Be My Baby” beat. It’s a slow song that occasionally loses its tempo entirely with vocals that trail off into silence before the drums kick back in. It’s almost as if you can hear the lights coming up at the end, which reminded me of one of Amateur Artist’s biggest successes: getting layered solo performances to sit together like a band. Of course multi-tracking is easier on the computer than ever before, but it’s still hard to capture the authentic feel of a band moving together, and that feel is all over Southside Throwbacks.
Ultimately, this is an expertly made album steeped fully in the grand tradition of surf rock. I don’t think anyone is going to describe Southside Throwbacks as innovative, but that’s also not necessarily the point. Amateur Artist already has a firm grasp on what makes this kind of music work, so it’s an easy listen. I’m hoping the process of making this first record has allowed the project to begin to develop a unique voice. If that voice starts coming out on future releases, Amateur Artist might quickly rise to the top of the lo-fi heap.
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