These days, every time you utter the phrase “surf rock,” a burly man throws a sack of kittens into the icy Seine and laughs a Gallic, throaty laugh so hard he chokes on his Benson & Hedges. It's a pejorative catch-all for bands that use a lot of reverb, three chords, and a Bandcamp site to trick you into thinking they play interesting music. Thicker Milk, for all its twenty-one (yes, twenty-one) two-minute songs, has nothing to do with shredding the gnar. It is simple, tasty, rock and roll.
What's lost in the album's muddy production is gained back by the full brunt of the sound of a honest-to-god five piece; snaking bass lines, forceful drumming, and lots and lots of guitar. Rob Ulsh's vocals are often indecipherable and possess a haunting knowingness that compliment the dissonant groove of “Into the Void” and the toe tapping, I-told-you-so riffs of “Bikini.” When the Virginians want to sound bashful, they inject some mid-90s licks into “Ask a Comb,” or they festoon a slow groove with melodic dissonance as in “Celebration.”
Comparisons to 13th Floor Elevators or The Kinks don't quite fit with this album, not because the band doesn't employ the same psychedelic sensibilities or pop formulae, but because Thicker Milk is 40 minutes of chasing a moment that's best encapsulated in the first third of a rudimentary rock song. It can be frustrating when one track up and dies in its prime. But string enough pearls together and you hear what the Vacations are after on their second LP: pop gold worthy of the repeat button.