At the bottom of the Burger Records website right now is a video, entitled Between Two Buns: The Burger Records Story. There isn’t a whole lot to read into the video – three goofy, affable guys in Orange County, CA, open a record store/label in the good spirit of rock and roll. They use it to create a haven for things they like, especially artists that draw from California’s venerable history of psychedelic and garage rock bands. In the video, co-founder Lee Rickard sums up Burger by saying “People that love rock and roll love Burger, because it’s just real. We try to be uninhibited, even though we’re squares sometimes.”
It’s a simple but genuine and endearing approach that has allowed Burger to net everyone from OFF! to Ty Segall for cassette releases, and has afforded them chances to do full-fledged releases with many other bands that share the same aesthetic. One of these is The Tough Shits, a Philly quartet who, on their eponymous debut album, pair an instantly enjoyable reckless side that recalls The Replacements with a knack for Nuggets-worthy garage rock tunes.
Alone, neither of these things do much to merit attention, as the sound that has become synonymous with Nuggets is among the most commonly aped in music right now, and The Replacements’ special brand of carelessness is oft-copied as well. But together, it’s a winning formula that’s bound to get compelling results, which is what most of The Tough Shits is. None of the songs are anything complex structurally, so they don’t tend to take unexpected detours quite like many of those Nuggets bands did, but The Tough Shits make up for it with an abundance of small moments that stand out within the songs. “She’s A Loner” is all but made by the backing vocals that echo the song’s titular line, and the same can be said for the few guitar chords that split the chorus of “Holding A Séance.”
The Tough Shits is also a very childish-sounding record, but this only lends itself to the band’s already well-formed persona. Since many of their lyrics are juvenile in nature, their reckless outlook is a perfect fit for the majority of the album. And on the one song where subject matter deviates toward dark areas, this approach turns it into a highlight as well. The closing “Hombre De La Cocaina” sees The Tough Shits going from tales of holding play séances in their basement, to calling up drug dealers and making claims like “Society groans every time I leave my home.” It’s shock value to hear this after 11 songs dominated by lighthearted subject matter, but it manages to fit because the song keeps the same rowdiness as everything else on the album.
The Tough Shits is a refreshing listen simply because it’s so uninhibited and genuine, two defining characteristics of both the band and their label. They don’t do anything new sonically, lyrically, or structurally; but in a landscape full of highly derivative bands, they’re another reminder that there’s hardly any need to when what’s brought to the table can be combined in a compelling manner. It’s not always what you do, but how you do it. And The Tough Shits do it well.