Lots of current neo-garage settles for a trashy intimation of fear: the broken-bottle preening of the Murder City Devils, Jack White’s creepy new mustache, the goddamn Groovie Ghoulies. California’s Husbands aren’t above this empty kitsch; the cover of their CD features a howling zombie wearing a tuxedo, and last month at the Knitting Factory they stalked the stage in hot-pantsed Elvira gear. (Résumé-wise, the terror tilt computes, since singer-guitarist Sadie Shaw also plays with debauched goths the Vanishing, and she and other singer-guitarist Sarah Reed once made an indie-rock horror film called Charm that didn’t star Shannen Doherty.)
But the Husbands earn their shtick because they actually sound scary, spiking ur-riffed clang’n’bang with Wicked Witch of the West screech, not to mention prickly one-finger guitar leads you could play if one of your arms was chopped off. Even when they go pretty—as on a skeletal version of Goffin-King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” that challenges the sass of fellow travelers the Gore Gore Girls’ “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby”—they submerge everything in so much Gracey Manor reverb that you’re surprised to bump into such a lovely melody. Ambush: That’s their thing.