Various Artists – I Need You Bad

Intended to canonize the garage rock and kindred offshoots of today’s Bay Area scene, I Need You Bad features acts both fresh and storied. It’s incredibly varied and, as far as an outsider can tell, a well-curated showcase of San Francisco, LA and Oakland’s best offerings.

Prolific local Sonny Smith handpicked the 15-track collection and, after closer inspection, there are a few grievances that demand airing. Firstly, why the heck were The Memories included? Sure, their languid stoner-pop jam, “Higher,” kind of fits in with the assumed California vibe. But they’re from Portland!

Aren’t there other geographically appropriate options? Like, say, Shannon & the Clams? Front-babe Shannon Shaw was kind enough to provide the artwork for the cover, but neither the Clams nor her other band, Hunx & His Punx, were granted space on the comp. Smith squeezed his own material on there, so why not throw in some Clams or Hunx? Not only would it be representative of what’s happening, but also it’d be a nod to iconic acts who helped carve out that girl-group garage niche, like The Bobbyteens. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Besides those few missteps, there’s not much else to complain about. Warm Soda, for me at least, is the best-known band on there, and Smith picked one of their lighter-weight tunes to open the collection. It’s not exactly exemplary of Warm Soda’s generally glam-leaning rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s a fun song nevertheless. Jessica Pratt, who channels husky-voiced folkies like Sibylle Baier and Joan Baez, contributed an alternate version of “Dreams.” Jangle-rock fledglings Wet Illustrated and Magic Trick, a project with which The Fresh & Only’s Tim Cohen explores his softer side, are rightful members of the club. The girls in The Sandwitches get some due credit – they’ve been churning out off-kilter pop for years now – as the album’s grand finale with their cutesy lo-fi number “Sun in the Rain.”

The inclusion of Sun Foot is excusable since their electronic experimentations come courtesy of musicians based in both Portland and LA. Earth Girl Helen Brown, despite that it’s a folk-rooted side-project of Smith’s, is still a reasonable selection – it’s indicative of a growing traditional folk resurgence.

Taking a step back, the various complaints are a result of the way I Need You Bad is being marketed. It’s truly is a stellar assortment of current garage and folk bands, it’s just not specific to the Bay Area. The addition of Portland groups isn’t denied by any means, but it’s sort of a footnote in the grand scheme of things. Another issue is that there isn’t enough garage-rock to promote it as such. It’s more like a spider web of sounds from the folk and pop underground. Smith clearly didn’t want to push anything that’s already in motion, like Ty Segall or Thee Oh Sees. Fair enough. But the comp would have been better served either by stretching into more West Coast sounds (and describing it accordingly) or by simply sticking to Bay Area-bred stuff. It’s not like there isn’t plenty to go around.

Various Artists
I Need You Bad
[Polyvinyl]