Total Score: 88 / Solid Gold: 100%
The first thing that you’re going to hear and the last thing you need to know about the Hanoi Janes is that they’re one German dude. This is usually the first thing mentioned in a write-up of Oliver Scharf’s indie project, mainly because when you listen to the record, the band sounds quite notably unlike one German dude. In fact, it quite specifically sounds like a few dudes from either Brooklyn or Los Angeles. And this isn’t to say Hanoi Janes are a generic sounding indie band, far from it actually, but the particular aesthetic present on Year of Panic is one that, up to this point, has almost exclusively risen from these two American locations. I’m talking about Wavves, Abe Vigoda, and Best Coast in L.A.; Vivian Girls, caUSE co-MOTION, and Crystal Stilts in Brooklyn. In fact, this record was released on Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks, where Beach Fossils and Dum Dum Girls are label-mates. Yes that’s right, this is another lo-fi garage rock tape for your drive to the beach – it just happens to come from a particularly landlocked area of Germany, right outside of Dresden.
What makes Scharf’s Hanoi Janes stand out from the rest of the pack is just solid songwriting, pure and simple. Most of the songs on the record fall into one of two categories: jangly indie pop songs and surf anthems. And let it be noted that these are very short songs, too – of the fifteen tracks on this 31 minute record, seven of them are under two minutes, and not one is over three. Despite the album’s constant barrage of these quick lo-fi stompers, each song is uniquely engaging and able to build its own personal place in your heart. It does take you a few listens before you’ve had a chance to really fall for it all, but the album is remarkably consistent and after a few days with it, every song will be your new favorite song.
Scharf is able to set the fifteen tracks on Year of Panic apart from each other with unique instrumentation. Several of the songs on this album are highlighted with glockenspiel and some particularly off-tune Casio tones, all fitting in perfectly with the fuzzy guitar and vocals that hold the lo-fi record together. Scharf switches back and forth between the more raucous rock numbers and twinkling indie pop with enough variation to keep the record sounding fresh all the way to the last song. Tracks like “Bad Attitude” and “Summer of Panic” are instantly catchy headnodders, the kind that make you treat your steering wheel like a snare drum, while “Sag Sag Sag” and “Past Lovers” evoke the end of the beach day, sitting around a bonfire and watching empty cigarette packs blister and burn. Then there’s the outliers, which turn out to be two of the strongest tracks – “Our Lives” which stacks layers of lo-fi to the point of psychedelica, and “Beach Kids”, which strips verses so bare it forces you to pay close attention as Scharf sings, “Forget about love, and all the things you know.”
Lacking proximity to the beach has certainly not hindered Scharf’s ability to be inspired by it, and one has to imagine that at night he dreams of blue oceans and girls in bikinis playing volleyball. And there’s no mistaking the beach-rock influence on this record, even without track names like “Beach Kids” and “Surfin KMC”. The guitar tone on this record is consistently reminiscent of either surf rock or traditional Hawaiian folk music – there’s even ukulele on some tracks. Tambourine bells also color the percussion section on Year of Panic, reminiscent of the Beach Boys, and their 60s surf pop contemporaries.
How Oliver Scharf was able to craft such a charming, eclectic take on this sun-drenched garage rock that’s been overtaking the indie world as of late, doing it all by himself in some suburban German town hundreds of miles from the nearest beach, is truly a mystery. But Scharf turns out to be a master in his field, combining the perfect levels of sound quality into his own brand of fuzzy, bubbly jangle-pop. He knows just when to cover his vocals in reverb and when to filter them through distortion – but they’re almost always coming out of a guitar amp. The drums are crisp but the low-end is usually nonexistent – this is music that would sound just as rich coming out of your Fender Frontman as it would from your Bose speakers – in fact, it would probably sound worlds better. And that’s exactly how this record is built – instilling exactly the kind of nostalgic summery vibe you want from a record like this, whether playing out of your laptop speakers, your old car stereo, your boombox, or your tube amp.
This record is All Killer, No Filler.
Top Killer – “Bad Attitude”, “Beach Kids”, “Sag Sag Sag”