Surf is no longer the same music that the kids in California were making. It's drawn in influences from all over the place to make its own more open sound. Some of these bands seek to establish new boundaries in what instrumental rock & roll can be, some just make the sound that makes sense to them. Here are the ones that stood out most to me, in no particular order.
The Coffin Daggers - Aggravatin’ Rhythms
As Coffin Daggers records go, this is probably the most oddball. I mean obviously, just look at it. But any worries you might have are wiped away by the familiar several-stories-tall guitar sound on “Instigator”. They’re still howlin’ as always. But I think the soul of this album lies in “The Spy”, where you get that savage guitar sound and those evil lair keys over a jumpy drum beat and goofy vocal “doo-wooh”s. There’s also a cover of the culturally iffy “Uprising”. It’s a fun album to listen to at an obnoxious level -- and fun is the word I think they wanted.
The AmpFibians - Enigma of the Deep
In three tracks of this you have Mermen-like spacey surf jamming on “Enigma of the Deep” going into a trad stomper “Bikinis 50% Off” into Las Vegas Grind styled “Wolf Whistle”. The AmpFibians don’t like to sit in one place but that’s part of the appeal here. It’s bright and fun and has surprises around every turn. And most importantly, they nail every new sound they try.
Bamboogie Injections - Wild Dandelion Stomping
The first two tracks of this record are so frenzied that I spend much of the rest of the album expecting the next explosion. Bamboogie Injections are constantly drifting to new thoughts, moods and speeds. This is showy, imaginative stuff, much more in line with The Madeira, or Tomorrowmen than the Surfaris - to the point where their cover of Banzai Washout is kind of surprising. It’s a bold statement for a first outing and ought to be tasty food to those looking for some wild guitar work.
Said the Ripper - The Hanging at Barbed Wire
There’s no shortage of bands that take a clear influence from Ennio Morricone (and there’s no saturation either! Keep ‘em coming!) but Said the Ripper went straight for the nastiest bits of his sound and none of the more thoughtful, patient parts. And while I would never say a negative thing about Ennio Morricone (actually I had higher hopes for the Hateful Eight soundtrack), it’s fun to hear a more reckless version of that sound, especially in “Ecstasy of Gold” -- possibly the only Morricone cover that doesn’t just make me want to hear the original.
There’s a big helping of Davie Allan and the Arrows, especially evident on the mod freakout “Cycles on Cemetary Ridge” and “Pocket Valve Indian”. The rest is somewhere between punk and surf, but with little claim to either. It’s nonstop action from start to finish, a knockout even on first listen.
The Space Cossacks - Live Supernova
It’s The Space Cossacks. Yes, it’s a concert recording from 18 years ago, but it’s basically mandatory. I don’t care if you already have the rest of their material, there are several tracks you won’t find anywhere else (including covers of some songs influential to the Cossacks). This is the Space Cossacks firing on all cylinders with barely a pause for breath, the recording is excellent, should get your knee jumping from start to finish.
Kreeps - Tales from Grim County
There’s an awful lot going on here. The guitar is front-and-center for sure, with a patient, twangy, surf-friendly sound, but there are so many atmospherics and layers glommed on that it reveals more of itself with every listen. While most of it deals in a horror vibe, you’ve still got Spaghetti Western and like 3 moods in one on “Plastic Fangs”. Tales from Grim County is a hell of a production that’ll whip you all over the place, but the key is how it always stays grounded with with those simple guitar melodies.
And the Gremmy goes to...
The Necronautics - The Necronautics
I love an instro record that takes you on a journey, and there were no shortage of those this year. But the one that had the strongest sense of narrative among those was the Necronautics? And I don’t mean that in a hand-holdy sense with voice-overs and a single interpretation, but each of these songs put me in a scene, had that scene play out, then passed me on to the next one.
In many ways it seems like a pretty standard modern instro record. It’s not especially showy, it’s not trying to give you an ethnomusicology lesson…. The sound is relatively consistent throughout. At least on the surface. But there’s a lot going on in a subtle way, that just makes these songs so rich.