(Album cover of When We Were Friends by The Backseat Lovers)

I’ve always loved how often artists these days influence and build off of one another’s work. One of my favorite things to come out of this dynamic is the many sub-genres produced and hidden within larger genres. Each sub-genre has its own sound, identifying factors, and overall vibe that’s just waiting to be discovered. 

Over this past year, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with a type of music I like to call, “Crunchy Beach Rock.” This sub-genre is sometimes categorized under the broad labels of garage rock or indie rock, however, I believe a handful of bands have the same unique characteristics that deserve their own categorization. The idea of the genre came to me this past summer when I was making a summer indie rock playlist headlined by The Backseat Lovers. I discovered that quite a few other bands have a very similar vibe and background. To me, the genre represents the careless and freeing environment of summer while having that “crunchy” sound of garage rock, hence the title of “Crunchy Beach Rock.”

In the following list, I’ll attempt to identify and explain the five main factors that I think bring together the “Crunchy Beach Rock” genre.

The list

  • “Basically every emotion of someone in their 20s”
  • Big City: Suburban Sound
  • Guitar solos of course
  • Imperfect Perfection
(Album cover of So you’re mad about the cups by Sarah and The Sundays)

To start, the first and arguably most identifiable part of the genre is the theme of breakup. Each of the bands I’ve chosen to include in the genre all have a wide variety of emotions in their music, however, some of their most popular releases are break-up songs. Although nearly most, if not all, music focuses on the love/breakup dynamic, “Crunch Beach Rock” artists seem to feature it more than others within the broader garage/indie rock genre. Maple Syrup by The Backseat Lovers definitely fits this categorization. The song is about the lead singer missing his ex girlfriend and thinking of everything that reminded him of her. At the end, he reveals that he actually cheated on her with another girl, which drove the relationship to its end (wonder if he saw that one coming). The following snippet comes from the very end of the song: 

And I lied

When I took you on a drive

And I said I’d never speak to her

Wish I would have kept my word

Maybe Syrup by The Backseat Lovers

To reference some other bands, Sarah and The Sundays, Your Neighbors, and Black Pontiac all have fairly staple songs about missing their exes and wishing they could turn back time. I wouldn’t go as far as the say “Crunchy Beach Rock” is a genre littered with breakup music but if you’re digging for some “indie rock missing your ex” music, it’s completely up that lane. 

Hate the thought of losing you to someone else

But how you gonna shine by yourself

Get what you need toKnow that I’ll be trying, too

What I don’t know won’t hurt meI can’t forget you

Even if I wanted to

Nothing last forever

But I’d spend forever with you

Temporary by Your Neighbors
  1. “Basically every emotion of someone in their 20s”
(Album cover of I Like You by Johnny Knox)

On top of all of these bands having iconic breakup music, they each completely delve into the abundance of emotions that being a young adult comes with. As I mentioned before, this genre does follow the typical love/breakup music dynamic due to exploring more emotional variety than mainstream pop could ever dream of. For example, songs will range from anxiety, love, fear of growing old, to even FOMO (fear of missing out). Appropriately named, Your Neighbors has a song called FOMO, which talks about experiencing social anxiety and FOMO simultaneous. Despite being a confusing contradiction, it is also a valid mix of emotions that so many people can relate to nowadays—especially because of social media. 

I’ve got a fear of missing out and I’m not

Counting on what I think’s up above

Damn how these four walls keep me in

I didn’t leave my room today

‘Cause I could think of a thousand ways I could go

And I’d rather be inside stoned and alone

FOMO by Your Neighbors

In FOMO by Your Neighbors, there’s the perpetual problem of self-isolation and FOMO brought on by social media nowadays: wishing you were out doing what everyone else is doing but just not feeling up to it. The song even goes as deep to explore depression as a result of FOMO.

They say it’s easier to go than to get left behind

But I sure as hell ain’t satisfied with my life I’ve been living by

Neck deep I’m drowning

Head first I’m falling

Scaring my friends with the mindset I’ve been in

The thought of burying my parents sure as hell does scare me

But the way I’ve been living

Gives them better odds of them burying me

FOMO by Your Neighbors

Of course, each of these bands absolutely still has iconic love songs like Kilby Girl by The Backseat Lovers or Chicken by Your Neighbors, but more interestingly, each of them have music about staying young and enjoying life. Arguably one of the most overwhelming feelings of any young person’s life, the fear of growing old has to be one of the rawest and most relatable topics any of these bands write about. In Soda Pop Rock by Black Pontiac, the lead singer Matty Mclaren sings about drinking, crashing parties, and “being addicted to the night life.” Just living in the moment and enjoying every second of it, not a single worry about what their neighbors may think or what will happen next. 

What’s the move and where you wanna go?

I’m addicting to the night life

Sipping on this soda pop rock

Bumping my new sound system

With the windows down, on the boulevard shit’s disturbing

Yeah, I got a bad attitude and an appetite for destruction

All the neighbors think we’re oh so rude

Soda Pop Rock by Black Pontiac
  1. Big City: Suburban Sound
(image of The Backseat Lovers practicing in one of their houses, November 2017 via Instagram)

Interestingly enough, almost all of the bands within the “Crunchy Beach Rock” genre come from extremely similar geographic locations: the suburbs of large cities. The Backseat Lovers are originally from just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, Sarah and the Sundays are from suburban Austin, Texas, Your Neighbors started in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and Black Pontiac are from the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada.

Each of these bands first gained traction within their hometown and eventually moved to larger cities, exploding with success from their distinct sound and relatable lyrics about suburbia USA. This similar environment of upbringing for each of the bands also had a general impact on their lyricism and song topics: writing about a friend’s house party, driving around with friends in the suburbs, and more niche “suburb-specific” things. 

(Google Maps)
  1. Guitar solos of course
(Pictures in concert via Black Pontiac’s Instagram)

While all of these songs are a part of the new-age indie rock movement, they still pay homage to rock history as a whole—emphasizing extended guitar solos, commonly after the chorus, as an exclamation of emotion in the story telling of the song. One of my personal favorite guitar solos would have to be in Leaves by joe p. Using a heavily distorted guitar that swirls around your head, joe p captures the completely overwhelming feeling of him getting over a girl that used to be head over heels for him.

(Guitar solo from Leave by joe p)

While most bands utilize this guitar solo to emphasize happiness or a feeling of being overwhelmed, Sarah and the Sundays subvert this in their song Moving On. The guitar solo is instead used to give the general “blah” feeling of what to do after a breakup, with a slower calm acoustic guitar for most of the track and heavy use of electric guitar for the guitar solo.

(Guitar solo from Moving On by Sarah and the Sundays)
  1. Imperfect Perfection
(Sarah and The Sundays live in concert via Daily Bruin)

Next, I’ll be discussing the general imperfections in both sound and production that define the genre a whole. To start, almost all bands use a “scratchy sound” for their guitar (usually done by externally recording the guitar), giving more of an organic and live feel to the song. Commonly done with the purpose of distancing themselves from the mainstream rock industry, it’s become a signature part of the “Crunchy Beach Rock” genre and garage rock as a whole. In addition, the general voice strain and imperfection in the lead singers’ voices often improve the song and reflect more authenticity than typical mainstream music and even other rock. The use of an imperfectly-perfect voice and live-sounding guitar continue to give the relatable “suburban garage production” feel to these bands.

Additionally, many of these artists utilize interludes throughout their albums like the rest of the music industry, but make a point to include snippets of them talking in the studio to continue to push this “homemade” aesthetic. A perfect song to encompass all of these elements would be Pool House by The Backseat Lovers: a raw song about waiting for a girl to come back around. The beginning of the song is a recording of them talking in the studio, confusing the name of the song they’re about to record and another song, showing just how casual and imperfectly perfect the song is.

(Opening and beginning of Pool House by The Backseat Lovers)

This little subgenre holds an important place in my heart as it’ll always make me reminisce about my senior high school summer. The songs mentioned above all helped me stay in the moment, and they remind me about enjoying stupid little things like parties, cruising with friends, and worrying about girls. To me, “Crunchy Beach Rock” means inner peace and freedom, allowing me to just be a kid until that song ends. I hope everyone that explores the genre finds the same warmth within it as well. 

 Here are some of my favorite albums in the genre and the playlist that inspired this all 🙂