Review: Local garage rockers Tough Age start another round with self-titled debut

Tough Age

Photo by Noah Adams; via Mint Records

For the most part, the reviews for Tough Age’s self-titled debut, which came out Nov. 12 on Mint Records, are reasonable responses to a decent, if sometimes workmanlike, garage rock album. Then there’s Vice’s take on the Vancouver band’s first album, written by a pseudonymous (and ambiguously local) reviewer, which was anything but reasonable.

It’s not so much a review as a clipped, possibly libellous screed. In between addled rants about recovering stolen goods from junkies and sucking up to editors of music magazines, the reviewer stops only briefly to call the band “a bunch of IT guys pretending they’re in bands.” It’s a depressing, yet farcically daft, piece.

Tough Age’s credentials are anything but make-believe, silly capsule reviews notwithstanding. Frontman and lead songwriter (and comic book store employee) Jarrett Samson is best known locally as the ringleader of erstwhile surf-punks Korean Gut and the bassist for the late, great Apollo Ghosts, while drummer Chris Martell drums for a slew of other local bands, including Sightlines and Synthcake. Filling out the band’s sound are newcomers Penny Clark and Lauren Smith on guitar and bass.

And Mint Records, the band’s label since July, is a veritable Vancouver indie rock institution, incubating the globe-trotting careers of such bands as the New Pornographers.

Mint’s press release for Tough Age refers to the band’s output as “culmination-rock,” which sounds good on first blush, but on further consideration reveals some caveats.

Take the middle of Tough Age’s debut album, for instance. While the first third of the album boasts the undeniably catchy jangle of “Heart of Juliet Jones” and the insistent undertow of “Sea of White’s” riffs, the rest of the album sounds too often like an blunted, exhausted take on one of Samson’s previous projects, especially Korean Gut.

Right now, this is a band that is far better seen live, with Samson showcasing his dry wit not only in his lyrics but during intermissions, and with dive bar PAs imparting a compelling roughness to the band itself.

Not all is lost on this debut: its subdued tone suits the album’s more psychedelic moments, as on its penultimate track, the vaguely Spacemen 3-flavoured “I Waste Too Much Time On Myself.”

Maybe, then, Tough Age is getting its sophomore slump out of the way early. For their sake, let’s hope so.

Chris Yee

Kwantlen journalism student and man-about-town, scouring every nook and cranny for morsels of emerging local culture.

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