Even if you’ve never heard of them before, you’ll probably find Tijuana Panthers immediately likeable. Like a freeform radio station, if you don’t like one song, there’s a good chance you’ll like the next. Throughout the course of 14 tracks, the band can pull off a mask of good ‘ol boys on a bar crawl, southern-fried twang-rock, moody blues heaviness or straight-up pop madness. And somehow Wayne Interest still manages to sound cohesive.
This is the Panthers’ third LP, the follow-up to 2010’s Max Baker and last year’s Semi Sweet. So it seems an evolution is almost unavoidable, especially since this time around the band teamed up with producer Richard Swift (the Shins, Foxygen), who has glossed and gossamer’d up the Panthers’ usual dirty knuckles. The crisp slide of album opener Four Horsemen, the Turbo Fruits fist-slam repetition of Torpedo and the deep bass snap on Cherry Street are proof of this newfound slickness.
Though the obvious slow-drive of Dark Matter and the saloon swagger of NOBO can feel slightly stubbed, Wayne Interest as a whole flows nicely. If Tijuana Panthers fall into any kind of comfort rut, it’s near the end of the album, when songs like Time, 7th Seal and Reaction all stumble about in a homogenous sugar-sprinkled stomp. Maybe this could’ve been avoided if the Long Beach trio had dug their heels a bit harder into the straw-punk and snarling vocals that opened the LP.
The album’s final song, Car Crash, opens with a lonely, drunk monologue before the Panthers’ take on a completely new sound. Its ’50s-style, romantic doo-wop sway and airy harmonies wouldn’t be out of place on the jukebox of a diner where the waiters rollerskate to your table. It’s almost as if a new band, just shot out of a time machine, has taken over. So maybe Tijuana Panthers are setting themselves up for a sequel.