The Tijuana Panthers got their name from the little black ceramic panther that was a present from their neighbor Max Baker—yes, the Max Baker who they named their first album after, and who deserves a bio all his own—and they got their sound from that strange place where punk bands crash into pop music and come out the other side, bristling with hooks and hitting three-part harmonies almost by happy accident. Even the Beach Boys were once a garage band, and after them came the waves of kids playing rock ‘n’ roll somewhere between the surf and the surface streets. Then when punk showed up in the ‘70s, it was just an adjustment in hairstyle and speed. The Buzzcocks did this a whole hemisphere away, the Real Kids and the Modern Lovers did it on the other side of the country, and the Crowd and the Simpletones did it just a few towns over. And now Tijuana Panthers come striding proudly out of their hometown of Long Beach, California, with Semi-Sweet, their most fully realized album yet.
Semi-Sweet has every Panther contributing a part in the entire album-making process, all the way down to brainstorming new songs on drummer and singer Phil Shaheen’s ukelele. Traditional Tijuana Panthers engineer Victor Orlando Nieto split the sessions for Semi-Sweet with new engineer Matt Vasquez, which worked with the new creative process to give the Panthers’ latest a different feel—something instantly apparent from first jittery notes of the Swell Maps-meets-Urinals DIY clatter-pop opener “Above Your Means.” (In fact, last track “Boardwalk (Reprise)” is a straight out of the Tijuana Panthers’ inbox, with Phil’s wedding ring knocking at a tabletop to help keep the beat.) From there, it’s a twist-and-turn-y journey through at least four decades of off-center from-the-heart music.