Halfway between LA and Phoenix on a desolate stretch of the I-10 lies Desert Center, a mostly abandoned town that mainly serves as a gas stop along the barren interior of California. Portland punks Guantanamo Baywatch, like so many touring bands, have passed through the town countless times on their way between shows. But the town has also become a particular source of inspiration for guitarist and vocalist Jason Powell, who recently relocated from Oregon to Arizona. It seems ironic that a band that draws so heavily from surf rock would find their muse in a location so far from the beach.
Truth is, Desert Center was the place where Powell first farted in front of his girlfriend, resulting in their use of “desert centering” as code for passing gas. But Guantanamo Baywatch’s new album Desert Center isn’t an ode to bodily functions or breaking down comfort barriers within relationships. Rather, it’s a perfect reminder of the ecstatic rabble-rousing documentation of life in America’s lonely outposts offered up by that first wave of electric guitar pioneers.
The album opens with “Conquistador”, an instrumental track displaying enough fretboard savvy and fiery twang to make The Challengers proud. But any notion that Guantanamo Baywatch is strictly adhering to one facet of rock n’ roll’s classic era is dispelled by the soulful swagger and unabashed pop of “Neglect”. It’s an inadvertent juxtaposition maintained through the entirety of Desert Center, with blazing instrumental nuggets like “The Scavenger” alternating with the proto-grunge and golden oldies mash-up of a track like “Blame Myself”.
Desert Center retains the raw, blown-out aesthetics of their early recordings, but has the added heft and thump afforded by a modern studio. It's a perfect balance that is best captured on their lead single “Video”, where bassist Chevelle Wiseman drives the tune with a thick, throbbing riff while drummer Chris Scott ruthlessly pounds his kit.