Bombay Beach is a bit of an elusive enigma. Ostensibly a garage band whose PNW roots do little to shadow their Californian desert-obsessions, what elevates them over their John Dwyer- praising acolytes is their inscrutability and their ambition. Their debut album, Death Tape is but a link in the chain of the “Bombay Beach experience,” with accompanying film soon to follow. With the album and what’s been unveiled so far of the film, there are themes of aggression, dissolution and world weariness. Like some of the best garage and thrash, those themes can be hard to parse from the bombast and the fuzz. At their best, Bombay Beach come off ghoulishly antagonistic. At other turns, they just come off impatient.
“Black Overture” opens Death Tape with a hazy fuzz and an ambient synth-pocked churn of post apocalyptica. It’s unexpected and before it’s fully formed, “Slab City” rips through it with gnarled guitars steeped in feedback and a steady bass that lurches forth from a swamp. Matt Zimmerman’s vocals sound like they’re just making it through white noise in blown dust, pulsing towards a dirty guitar solo that seals together a desert rock vibe, giving honor to the song’s namesake. The one-two punch of these disparate tracks is intrinsic to Death Tape’s layout, like a head trip being repeatedly disrupted by the awareness of the ruined landscape surrounding it.
The patchwork nature of the album’s sequencing feels intentionally scattershot, as if these visceral tracks were weaved through solemn ambient passages not to give a statement of purpose, but to startle the listener repeatedly throughout its quick run-time. Death Tape feels like a small town radio station being relentlessly hacked by cheeky, pulp-film anarchists. There are shades of John Carpenter, Brad Fiedel’s Terminator score and the ambient works of Robert Rich that flit only momentarily amongst straight fatalistic garage thrash. The juxtaposition and sheer power are exhilarating at times, such as way that the guitars begin to bleat and devour themselves on “Mickey Ratta,” which is so chaotically satisfying that its only disappointment is that the song refuses to destroy itself further. The wildly unhinged discordant prog guitar that intrudes the ghoulish vocal harmonies of “Thee Mote” fills the same satisfaction before it cuts off too soon. The sort of culminating finale “Deep City Chase” feels like a Vangelis cut being hijacked by the band’s own restlessness, but only for a brief moment. Consider it the sum of Death Tape scrawled upon notebook paper.