[GARAGE POP] I almost forgot that I've seen the Bugs (I was drunk and didn't find out the duo's name). But as soon as "Fuckin' A. Right," the second song on the band's self-tilted LP, came through my speakers, it all came back: It was at Slabtown's opening party, the Bender. There was a huge bass drum and mid-rangy guitar being traded back and forth between two guys who bounced calmly before the crowd. They were called back for an encore even though they weren't headlining, and there was a song in which every line ended with, "Yeah, I fuckin' know what you mean!"
It was a good show, but this 8-year-old Portland garage-pop duo just outdid itself by making one hell of an album. Don't just take it from me: Read the liner notes for the Bugs' fourth, vinyl-only release, and you'll find canonical rock critic Richard Meltzer declaring the Bugs the "flying fucking shit"; he also describes the duo as the only not-contemptible rock band around. Put on The Bugs at home and see what your roommates have to say: One of mine said, "This sounds like a lot of things but not exactly like anything."
Indeed, "Category A or B" recalls pop-sensible British punk à la the Buzzcocks with lines like, "Are you gonna call me on the telephone?" sung snottily over guitar that has a little bite. And even "Anxiety & Angst"—a song in which half the guitar line is made up of muted, clicking strums—sounds very London circa the late '70s. But there are also traces of Daniel Johnston in images like that of a date taking place downtown, underneath the "neon sun." And the sweet high pitch of that cult genius' voice characterizes the Bugs' slower acoustic songs—and even sneaks into the shouted chorus of "Not Tonight." Other vocal parts are sarcastic and almost sexless in tone: "Great Escape" and "Sing/Sigh," for instance, lend themselves to the same wide-eyed stare that might accompany a Dead Milkmen song.
"This is, like, the best party music," another roommate announced: True, most of the short tracks on The Bugs are wrapped in upbeat, lo-fi fuzz, but that's exactly what makes the album's slower, nostalgic moments all the more attention-grabbing—and endows them with a sense of purpose. As one such moment during "Stars and Stripes" concluded the record, another roommate immediately asked me to start it over. Doesn't look like I'll be forgetting the Bugs again anytime soon. JASON SIMMS.