Gremmy Awards are hard. I often don't agree with them a year later, there are records that I inevitably overlook or great albums that just don't find a place. Thankfully, I've met a bunch of friends over the years that I know are listening to plenty of new surf releases, and so I ask them for their favorites so that you can have some opinions other than my own terrible ones. I give them cart blanche as to how they want to write them up, so this may be a little disjointed, but I think it's fun that way.
Huge thanks to everybody that contributed! Parts in italics are my own introductions.
When I was asking for submissions for the Top 100 Surf Records of the 2010s, I told people to submit as many or as few as they wanted. Antonis, who I had not previously met, submitted a full, ranked top 100, dotted with many under-the-radar releases. It was clear that I had to keep in touch with this guy.
Here are my TOP 7 surf albums released 2020:
(The Magnificent Seven)
- BELHARRAS - Pelee
This is an extremely wonderful record, creative, progressive, modern, surf with style. amazing!!!
- AQUA BARONS - Extreme Guitar Conditions
This is one of the best trad. surf record of the year. I like that band a lot.
- EL RAY - Transitions
Those damn kids did it again. Brilliant!!!
- BALI LAMAS - High Times/Low Tides
This band was a pleasant surprise for me. A marvelous release!
- INCREDIBLE SUCKING SPONGIES - s/t
- EVANSTONES - 1961
- SPACE AGENCY - The Celestial Sounds…
& some very nice 45s
- LOS FRENETICOS-Macumba
- MEN IN GRAY SUITS-Shark Bait
- DRACULINA-Strip Trip To Miracle Cove
- SURFRAJETTES-Hale’iwa Hustle
Best Label: Hi-Tide Records
Mark's the bandleader for Mark Malibu & the Wasagas, who got a Gremmy honorable mention this year, but he also spends some of his seemingly limitless energy promoting others' efforts. He has his own radio show Surfin' a Go-Go and also put together a great compilation of christmas surf this year. I also thought it was really fun how he used my Gremmy categories here.
2020 was a weird year, even by my standards. However weird tends to make artists get busy and I like that. As Momma Malibu used to say, “when life gives you lemons, order a pizza ! “
Best Traditional Surf LP
Evanstones - 1961
From this day forward, if you hold a sea shell to your ear you will hear this perfect LP. It’s full of Surfy goodness from start to finish. The more I listen to this record, the more I say to myself “Gee, I wish I wrote that song”
Best Modern Surf LP
The Space Agency - The Celestial Sounds of The Space Agency
I couldn't buy this record fast enough. Really clever arrangements of smooth sophisticated 60s guitar hanging out with crunchy super fuzz guitar. This is a great LP to listen carefully to with headphones.
Best "Mad" Instro Record
Ukexotic by Mike Diabo (Rev Hank)
"NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!"… and no-body expected a surf LP on the Ukulele…however Rev Hank rocked some great exotic versions of the classics like Penetration, Misirlou and Mr Moto. A perfect companion for a tiki cocktail.
Best Horror Instrumental
Night Chill - Creepy's Bite
This band is the REAL DEAL. They were good friends with George A Romero. They were married by a member of GWAR. They organized the Toronto Zombie walk for years until it became so big the city had no idea how to handle it…..and now their band is MEGA - creepy and released a series off singles and a full LP will be out in 2021. Tasty theremin in every track !!!
Best Cover Surf song
Messer Chups - Love Will Tear Us Apart
I don’t love the term “cover song” when a song has been reimagined so well. Ian Curtis took his life just a week before Joy Division was to make their North American debut in Toronto. Very sad…. but I think Ian Curtis would approve of this surfy remake.
Best Christmas Surf song
Tourmaliners - O Little Town of Bethlehem
I was up to my eyeballs with Christmas music this year with my Cat sanctuary benefit. This song by the Tourmaliners really jingled my bells. They also released a FAB LP on Altered State of Reverb entitled “Surfin Christmas Carols” which is a must have for every person on the planet.
Best Album Cover Art
The Surfrajettes - Hale'iwa Hustle
I mainly like art that looks like it was ripped from an Archies comic book,… however this work done by Scott Sugiuchi is superb. I love the colours and lack there of…. could be a mid century travel brochure… but its not !
Best Surf Music Video
The Green Reflectors - Coke Can Crab
There we lots of videos during the lockdown because there was little else to do… however this GEM popped onto the inter-web in January. Not since Team America have we seen such world class puppetry. This might be the first and only time in Surf, referring to your woody meant a marionette.
Kevin KamphausKevin has been doing these Guest Gremmys about as long as I've had them. He's always on the cutting edge, often posting links to new releases in facebook surf groups moments after they appear.
Well what can be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? All of us now have a legitimate reason for our annual New Year’s Eve ‘Worst Year Ever’ posts on social media. But thru it all surf music continued! New albums were still released and there were even shows broadcast on Facebook which I love since I don’t get to see bands much here in Nebraska. The Surf Zombies broadcasted a couple shows as well as The Jagaloons and I’m sure there were others I missed. My favorite local band The Sub-Vectors even managed to get outdoors to play a local show in October so I was grateful for that.
Here are my Top 5 surf albums of 2020:
5. The Aqua Barons – Extreme Guitar Conditions
Hailing from Greece, The Aqua Barons play traditional style surf with a bit of fuzz mixed in with a dash of exotica. It’s been four years since their second full length release Southeast Stompers and they definitely deliver! Lead Guitarist Petros Sotiropoulus has written ten new tracks that would fit in perfectly on any 60s surf beach movie soundtrack. Fans of The Space Agency will be interested in this as Simon Jones accompanies throughout with ‘space sounds’.
4. The Razorblades – Howlin’ At the Copycats
Anyone who has followed surf music should know The Razorblades and I strongly recommend you check them out if you do not! They have been around officially since their debut release in 2003 Get Cut by the Razorblades. They are definitely one of the more cutting edge bands of the Surf Revival from Germany that play very energetic surf. Over the years their sound has evolved with each album integrating punk and vocals and this release is no exception. Howlin’ at the Copycats has the most vocal tracks that they have ever released at one time (four) accompanied with 12 scorching instrumentals.
3. King of Hawaii – Road Trip
Contrary to their name, King of Hawaii hails from Seattle, Washigton, USA yet their music reflects a perfect beach music sound. I believe fans of surf legends The Aqua Velvets will dig these guys. Road Trip contains ten all new tracks that take the listener on a ride thru surf, western, rockabilly, exotica and Latin cultures complete with pedal guitar, trumpet, and fiddle.The ideal soundtrack for hanging out at the beach, there is something for everyone here.
2. Rev Hank – El Camino De Los Muertes
Rev Hank is the guitarist for one of my favorite surf bands the Urban Surf Kings. ‘The Rev’ is a multi-instrument musician as well as producer and even arranger. This album is a 100% solo effort and he has even released a few EPs/singles playing the ukulele as well as Urban Surf King Christmas EPs. El Camino de los Muertos is deemed a ‘soundtrack’ for the movie of the same name and is full of baritone based Spaghetti Western guitar. This is one of those LPs I require listening to completely thru at one sitting to absorb its ambience.
...and my top surf album of 2020 is...
1. The Evanstones - 1961
I was first introduced to The Evanstones back in 2017 when I picked up their second release Music from the Last Band on Earth. I was absolutely enthralled by their trad surf sound and as it turned out that LP ended up being my second favorite surf album from 2017. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that they were releasing another album in 2020… and I was not disappointed! Before even listening to a note of music one looks at the album cover and immediately feelings of 1961 are invoked, when instrumentals were commonplace on radio stations everywhere. Then there’s the music…WOW! It all starts with a nice surf beat on ‘Speedboat’ and closes with an elegant, reverb drenched ‘Dead or Facing West’. From end to end this is just a wonderful slice of time put into music that delights the ears and will continue for many years to come. I am personally so excited for the future of this band and hope one day to see them at SG101.
North Sea Surf Radio is sadly officially no longer operating, but DJ Dotty is still regularly spinning up sets on Soundcloud!
This past year has been difficult for so many but I’m So Very Thankful that we had many dedicated musicians, who have helped carry us thru with their wonderful releases. I’ve decided to list the 2020 releases that I’ve turned to the most, that bring joy to my heart and a smile to my face. They are in no particular order and for brevity, I have painfully excluded a few. I promise I love A LOT of you!
El Ray – Transitions
The El Ray crew lives with a very difficult burden resting on their shoulders, that they always create amazing music that pushes the boundaries of surf. This power team pushed the boundaries once again this past May. 9 songs, each with a drop mic quality to them that leaves no doubt that they are like fine wine and a perfect pairing of great musicians. You can’t see them having fun right now (you will, once shows and festivals resume), but you can definitely TELL that they were having a great time when they recorded this.
The Evanstones – 1961
Did The Evanstones create this album to summon the sun in rainy Seattle, Washington? If they did, I bet the sun shone non-stop this summer over the Space Needle after it heard the 13 cuts on this album! It sure made MY summer a sunny one. Drippy and deliciously intricate melodies galore. Its hugs you in warm places that resonate delight and nostalgia. If that isn’t enough, the ascending lead guitar lines really get your heart palpitating and give you goose bumps (the good kind).
Messer Chups – Don’t Say Cheese
This album couples both The Chuppers sophisticated and spirted nature! With several vocal tracks featuring Zombierella as well as guest vocalist Sean Wheeler of Throw Rag. I feel like his voice captures the jovial playfulness conveyed by songs like The Mummy and the anguish of Heartbreak Boulevard. A must have for the avid fan and new fan alike!
Jason Janik - Summer Begins
My summer DID indeed begin upon hearing this gem! 9 songs that pack a real punch. Bright, clean, and rollicking. Upon my first listen, the neighbors’ kid started pounding on the wall, I thought they wanted me to turn the volume down, no. She yelled thru the wall for me to play the cut that had just played, Surf No. 9, again! We listened to that song two more times and listened to the whole album 3 times in succession. I can safely say this album is kid approved as well. Every subsequent single release of his has steadily been marvelous as well and I cannot wait to hear more in the future. Until then, this album is on heavy rotation.
The Ghibils - Domino
Upon first listen of this album my ears stood up at attention. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the magic that I hear every time I play it. Sultry, gritty, sexy, with a brush of the exotic. A fusing of surf, jazz, exotica, titty twister, and garage band elements. This album makes my ears FEEL sexy and if you haven’t picked it up yet, I highly suggest you do.
The Aqua Barons - Extreme Guitar Conditions
I don’t know if they intended to write a magnum opus for their second full length album, but they inadvertently did. This is what surf music sounds like in my dream landscapes. This is what surf music sounds like in the most beautiful moments of my life and what I hope I hear in my last moments. They culminate sprinkles of various genres of sound, with fuzz and reverb, drip and bouncy, jolly and pensive. Well composed, well played, and structured. It made me tear up with joy before I realized what was happening. This album is an experience and if you haven’t experienced it yet, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Another every-year Guest Gremmy contributor, Uwe (aka Nestor Burma) is one of the first people I turn to for reviewing my year-end big lists for omissions.
Hi folks, this year it's really difficult to write about releases I am missing. I definitely agree with Hunter's choices especially the albums of Mr Galaxy and Echo Sector. But I'm missing a complete format of releases – The Short Ones. As a man who was born in the 1950s who started listening to records in the 1960s, I always loved Singles. That was the only format I could buy as a kid. So I decided to make a choice for a Guest Gremmy for the best Surf Instrumental Single in 2020
At first I have 4 honourable mentions:
Los Straitjackets – Bus Stop
Beach Bomb - De Miserlou Dom Sathanas
Codename: Carter – Signal in the Noise
Dr. Tritón – Bolillo Fantasma
And the Single of the year 2020 is:
Vern Jules & The Aquanauts – The Devils Tail
BTW: I still have the 7 inch of the original version of Bus Stop by The Hollies from 1966 and I still love this track, but the instrumental cover of Los Straitjackets is so much better....
Ferenc plays guitar for Frankie and the Poolboys. Amazingly, I actually got to hang out with Ferenc in 2020 almost exactly a year ago when he Karen came down for Mardi Gras!
There's no need to keep talking about how crappy 2020 was, and a lot of good stuff did happen. For instance, I had a lot more time to listen to music! One thing I noted is that there are now at least eight serious surf music labels. A few have been around a long time, and some are noobies. Support and distribution can only be a good thing for the genre. Please continue to BUY music!!! I still wish North Sea Surf Radio would come back, or something like it, but my first Guest Gremmy awards go to Hunter King (Storm Surge of Reverb on WTUL) and Jonpaul Balak (Fiberglass Jungle on LuxuriaMusic.com) for providing my weekly fixes of surf music! Also, three (!) issues of The Continental Magazine came out in 2020. I think The Continental and Pipeline are the last two surf and instro dedicated magazines on the planet. They're filled with reviews and interviews, and are vital resources that must be supported. Finally, man oh man, I can't wait to go to live shows and festivals again! Oh yeah, the music...
- King of Hawaii - Road Trip
- Baja Bug - the Surf Will Rise Again
- El Ray - Transitions
- The Coffin Daggers - Eleki Album
- Hershel Yatovitz - Narabeen
7" Single or EP (in no order)
- The Phantom Four - Yarana
- Tikiyaki Minus Orchestra - Sketches with Guitar and Bongos
- Perro Avion (Par Avion and Perro Agracecido)
- The Surfrajettes - Hale'iwa Hustle
- The Manakooras
- Draculina - Strip Trip to Miracle Cove
In the normal world we used to live in, Alistair DJ'd sets with plenty of surf at the Chelsea Inn in Bristol. He also is great at pointing me towards obscure releases that I missed, particularly those on the edge of the surf realm.
A weird year for music where i didn’t actually buy as much surf as i usually. Lockdowns and tier systems put away to doing any dj gigs. My last was in March last year which is kind of fitting as i’m hoping to start streaming sets from March this year. Nothing significant about exactly one year but just when i have my next leave from work, and busy we were. Busiest ever. Working for Royal Mail, i can tell you vinyl was still selling just as strongly during the year. If not more.
Pelemono - Gibraltar
SPTP - Independent Waves
Potbelly MacKraken - Surf ’N’ Ska
Boss Cuts - Psycho Nite A - Go - Go!
Perro Agradecido Cumbia - Perro Avion
Thanks again to my surf cognoscenti that lent their thoughts to the Guest Gremmys. I really love this category, it really helps make a more complete view of the year.