I think it’s appropriate that on the cover of Bikini, the debut album from Austin’s charmingly reckless garage-punk duo Not In The Face, the band’s name is so much more noticeable than the album title. Honestly, it might confuse a few people not familiar with the hellion racket singer/songwriter/guitarist Jonathan Terrell and power punching drummer Wes Cargal kick up if it was the other way around.
The album moves through nine songs in barely over a half-hour, and its overwhelmingly quick pace juices the material. It feels possible that Not In The Face pulled their live set off in one take in the studio; it’s the necessary vitality a debut needs to have. “Way to Go Baby” lures listeners in easily with a guitar and drum rhythm straight out of 50′s rockabilly. Terrell’s voice is the main standout of the track; it finds a place between the sore throat lamentations of Paul Westerberg and the barking yelp of a Pelle Almqvist.
“Downtown Girl,” the second track, is where things really get going. Obviously the group’s leadoff single, “Downtown Girl” conjures up images of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits in its depiction of shiftless urban lifestyles, but the rawboned squeal the duo puts in makes it the band’s own creation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big advertising campaign pick this track up. It seems universally accessible; the song recalls the bad boy attitude that rock was once associated with.
The most Replacements-sounding track on the album is the pissed-off “Yuppie Monday.” Whenever I see that word, “yuppie,” I remember Tim Roth’s diner robber in Pulp Fiction intimidating customers at gunpoint. Pumpkin would’ve agreed with the “screw conformity” message of this track. Later, it’s impossible not to compare the aptly-titled “Brass Tacks” to the blues beat down offered by The Black Keys. But Not In The Face can also pull back and do something more cerebral, like on the indie epic “Fire Through Time” or the blatantly lovely “So Cool.”
On successive listens Bikini opens up more variety within its two-person confines. At first it seems like a straight-ahead ass kicker, but there are shades of higher ambition if you look hard enough. The finale, “Good Night So Long,” sends the record out on a triumphant, rampaging note. So while there might be more to Not In The Face than rangy, garage-sweetened American rock, they end their first record knowing where their bread is buttered.
Final Grade: ****1/2 (out of five)