A little advice when trying out Mamba: check your DIY at the door. Garrett Van Der Spek makes garage rock that’s a bit too plush for the basement. Cushioned with clean vocal harmonies, embellished with soft synthesizers, and sandwiched between a pair of spacious, downbeat crooning numbers, Prism Tats’ Mamba tackles the genre with a smirking poise. The tempos don’t rush ahead nervously and the instruments knit together seamlessly, entirely devoid of rough edges. There’s a calculated energy to the affair that can’t be ignored. For devotees of the genre, crate digging for the latest blown out gem, its pristine presentation leaves a certain “rawness” to be desired. But even still, Van Der Spek’s clear ambition in flexing his songwriting chops and the unflinching swagger he carries into each song makes for a brisk rush of energy from top to bottom.
To call the production on Mamba “clean” is a raving understatement—this album is Department of Health Grade A spotless. Even its loudest, most chaotic moments, like the feedback eruption that closes out the title track, don’t come close to putting the meter into the red or producing the slightest unwanted artifact. On tracks with a serious amount of tonal variety, like “Vamps,” which thunders ahead with plenty of vocal effects swimming around two guitars, one bright and palm-muted and the other ringing like church bells in the pre-chorus, this streamlined sound works well. It brings out a tremendous amount of flavor that would otherwise get muddled. But on “Live Like Dogs,” whose glam rock design struggles to pull ahead of the typical guitar-drums-bass instrumentation, it saps some much needed unpredictability from a tightly written tune.
However, when Garrett Van Der Spek has a mind to twist a song with some newfound instrumentation, his instincts are spot on. “Daggers” hangs heavy on its festival-ready chorus, and rightfully so, but it's the woozy, flute-like organ swooping into the verses that turns it into something more than a straightforward anthem. And when he branches out into more exotic textures, the rewards grow exponentially richer. In "Ocean Floor," it’s refreshing to hear a drum machine bumping out a metronomic pattern on an album of explosive live drumming, especially when paired with a Robert Fripp-indebted guitar lead soaring in the background, sounding like “Somber Reptiles” from Another Green World with vocals. Indeed, the tracks that burn more slowly, taking on an almost ambient pace, feel like the next step in Van Der Spek’s evolution away from garage relics of the past.
Where his last record closed with the fuzzy, burnt-out strums of “Know It All,” this time Van Der Spek brings the lights all the way down for “Doomed,” an acoustic track that drifts away steadily like the end credits to a space western. Liberated from the burden of injecting that typical venomous swagger over bombastic riffs, a more introspective Van Der Spek mulls over his fate, turning into a more relatable and approachable character in the process. And as much as the polished punk pouting still remains compelling enough to keep you listening, it’s this side of Prism Tats that will keep you waiting for more.