Home Read Albums Of The Week: Tijuana Panthers | Halfway To Eighty

Albums Of The Week: Tijuana Panthers | Halfway To Eighty

The long-serving Long Beach trio mix garage-rock, surf, punk & more on their sixth LP.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “In one form or another, Tijuana Panthers have existed most of its members’ lives. Daniel Michicoff (bass/vocals), Chad Wachtel (guitar/vocals) and Phil Shaheen (drums/vocals) became friends when they were teenagers in Long Beach and started playing music together soon after, eventually becoming one of the shining stars of the 21st century garage-rock revival — a (relatively) chill surf-rock-inspired complement to the ruckus of acts like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. But while many of their initial contemporaries have gone through lineup changes or thrown in the towel, the Panthers are hanging tough — and, in a sense, just hitting their stride.

“I feel like this was our most relaxed process yet,” says Michicoff of the band’s sixth LP Halfway To Eighty, an album whose title serves as a sly embrace of getting older, with a little bit of the Panthers’ trademark sense of humor sprinkled in there for good measure. (On the cover, they gather around their imaginary midlife-crisis DeLorean.) It’s a brotherhood that’s only gotten more instinctual over time, and lately that second-nature approach has found each member taking on a more forward role in crafting their own individual songs, which the trio then works out together before hitting the studio.

On Halfway To Eighty, riff-heavy anthems like Helping Hand are courtesy of Wachtel, while art-rock thrashers like Slacker are Shaheen’s handiwork, and smirking punk numbers like False Equivalent are Michicoff’s. (“What good can it bring now? / We’re barely evolved” sings Michicoff on that last song, a squall of guitars swirling around his trembling tenor.) When you keep an ear out for them, you can hear each distinct personality in the songs, but taken as a whole, it’s yet another primo Panthers set of post-Cramps, post-Devo outsider rock ’n’ roll.

That’s partially through the help of regular Panthers collaborator Jonny Bell (Crystal Antlers, Chicano Batman, Hanni El Khatib), who produced the set at his Jazzcats Studio in Long Beach. Bell has proved to have something of a sixth sense in working with the band, so there was no one better to capture the sound they were going after this time, either. For much of the record, the band was working with the mindset of channeling some of the production sound and attitude of local punk legends like Black Flag and Circle Jerks. “What I told Jonny when he was mixing Slacker,” remembers Shaheen, “was, like, ‘Just keep it South Bay,’ and he already knew what I was saying.”

But as much as the band has matured over the years, they still know how to put together an album efficiently, without messing around. They’re professionals, after all — and there’s bills to pay, too. “We don’t have the luxury to go in the studio for days on end,” laughs Shaheen. “I don’t know how other bands do it.”

Taken at full, Halfway To Eighty is an embrace of much more than just a band. It’s a statement of dedication to the calling of music — to sticking with making art as long as you want to, age be damned. “You know what would make me just go, ‘Oh, let’s just quit,’ ” says Wachtel, recalling a recent raucous show in Los Angeles, “is if we didn’t have that reception anymore. The fans keep me going.”

“Not to get all spiritual about it,” adds Michicoff, “but when we were younger, we played really hard for nobody, and now the fans do all the work for us. They have the fun and we just kind of rock out, and it’s nice. It’s cool to sit back and play the songs and watch. They’re putting on a show for us.”