If five beach bums tried to surf their way to the classic California rock sound (The Doors, The Byrds, etc.) but instead got lost in a cloud of pot smoke and found themselves at a goth house party, you would end up with something like The Growlers. The Growlers are from Orange County; they like a little reverb on their guitars; there’s a little bit of dark soul in their sound; and they do look and act baked much of the time, but that’s where the similarities to those other bands end.
The band’s psychedelic pop music is sometimes called “beach goth” because it has a groove that’s slowed down just a little too much. They add vaguely sinister-sounding circus-calliope sounds where you wouldn’t think they should go, and singer Brooks Nielsen’s jerky on-stage motions recall Ian Curtis. Yet while they appear as if they might have just found themselves in the middle of a live performance with no recollection of how they got there, they always seem to play like they know what they’re doing. The band’s third album, Hung at Heart, is being released in November on vinyl, CD and cassette (any doubts that they’re trendsetters?), so expect them to play some new material along with favorites such as “Sea Lion Goth Blues” or “Barnacle Beat.” Recorded in Nashville with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, the highly anticipated Hung at Heart is rumored to integrate a bit more country into the surf sound they’ve made their own.
While Jim Morrison might have been enough to look at in nothing but leather pants, singer Brooks Nielsen gives people plenty of visuals through wigs, costumes and props (like a taxidermy wolf-dog that might crowd-surf along with fans dressed like mermaids). That kind of showmanship deserves more than the occasional Lizard King comparison. The Growlers play with Guantanamo Baywatch and Cosmonauts at 8 pm Sunday, Sept. 9, at WOW Hall. $13 adv., $15 door.