The Dream of the 90s is alive, sometimes even in Portland. And this being surf music, that 90's dream is of the 60's I guess. The Bomboras are back, Pollo Del Mar is back, Bradipos IV is possibly more active now than in the 90's, I'm getting ready to see The Volcanos at SG101, we've even been promised Langhorns. Satan's Pilgrims are perhaps the least surprising, leaving at least one album in each decade since and having been on a bit of a streak in the past five years. However, this project was a dream of the 90's that has finally found light today.
To turn a story that is told very well in the liner notes into something quick and boring, Thomas Lauderdale was enamored with Satan's Pilgrims when he first saw them in the 90's and wanted to get closer to them in some manner, so he suggested a collaboration on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". Lauderdale formed his own band Pink Martini, a band that I'll attempt to sum up as a jazz, classical, lounge, latin hybrid, but also toured with Satan's Pilgrims while he was working with an artist named Phranc (who happens to show up on the one vocal track on this). This idea of a collaboration album with his classical-ish piano melding with The Pilgrim's hefty force was in the works, but hit the backburner when Pink Martini took off. During the pandemic Lauderdale dusted these recordings off and reworked them to some extent, though sadly it wasn't ready before Pilgrims' guitarist Dave Busacker passed away. I would say this is the last LP with Dave Pilgrim in the lineup, but I've already made that mistake before.
This is certainly a different form of Pilgrims than we've been accustomed to. Were they not wearing capes, you might see coat tails; it's a bit of a fancier affair, less rough & tumble than usual. Sure, piano mingling with surf isn't THAT strange: The Chantays are one prominent example. But Thomas Lauderdale is at least 50% of what's happening here, and his playing style is active, attractive, and rarely just playing a supporting role. It's a true collaboration, with some songs being a bit more guitar focused, but the nature of the piano cuts through a bit. It's also the choice of songs, pulling from classical, jazz, exotica classics, that kind of give this a flavor more along the lines of one of those Wrecking Crew surf-adjacent records from back in the day rather than crude (and wonderful) teenage hormonal inventions. None of these are originals, though I wasn't familiar with all of them.
"Rhapsody in Blue" is well justified as the intro track to the record. Once again, guitar takes melody, but Lauderdale's playing feels like flowers sprouting from the Pilgrims' vine, then the two play back-and-forth off of each other.
Malagueña is a track that makes sense to be included from both angles. I've heard surf versions of this song done plenty, but it's unquestionable that Lauderdale bumps up the drama a bit, as well as lends a little bit more of ballroom-friendly flair.
Probably the most high-energy track is "Out of this World", with an intimidating piano intro that splashes into action with frantic piano and bongo setting the rhythm for a guitar melody that is actually pretty simple, but has you on your toes for what might come next. While this whole album is a great listen, this is is one that really feels like it's taking advantage of both surf and piano sides of the project.
While most of the tracks in this are comfortable outside of rock & roll canon, The Fabulous Wailers' "Tall Cool One" does stick out a bit, and I can imagine it might be at the suggestion of Satan's Pilgrims, who have a history of celebrating PNW instro history. And of course, if you've got a piano player to work with, why wouldn't you take on one of most iconic piano intros in the genre?
Obviously I'm approaching this as a surf/Pilgrims fan. I don't know if I'd heard any Pink Martini prior to this record. To me, this whole thing is a pretty comfortable fit, and a really fresh and vibrant listen. It's surf enough that I can still approach it as a surf fan very easily. I wonder how Pink Martini fans hear it. I'd like to think that this has extra appeal to a wider set of ears, but I've only got the two on my head. And they loved this.
Available on vinyl, cd, and digital. I've actually been able to compare vinyl and CD packaging-wise, and they're mostly just different layouts of the same stuff. The biggest differences I could find were that the CD version had two extra pictures of Satan's Pilgrims and the vinyl appears to omit Lauderdale's list of Thanks.