We're getting near the final picks of the top records of the decade as voted upon by surf fans around the world, and this partincular chunk has a lot of the heavyweights of today's modern surf scene. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how many newcomers on the scene found their way in! You can see the rest here.
Los Daytonas - Twang or Die (2018)
Despite the mean motorcycle on the cover, this record is not about horsepower. The last track is a cover of The Setinals' Latinia, and I think that's a good reference for the soundspace Los Daytonas inhabit. This is a very pretty record, with a sprawled out, near-exotica feel.
The Phantom Dragsters - At Tiki Horror Island (2018)
The Phantom Dragsters' previous EPs were a full of wild get-up-and-go concert-ready tunes. For their first LP they cooled down a bit and built around a theme. This is a fun set of traditional surf songs individually, but as a whole you can hear a narrative of an expedition to a mysterious island, an ambush, adventures, discovery, and terror before a rescue and voyage home (and then rock & roll high school tacked on). I invite you to listen to it that way: focusing on the stories it tells, not just the songs they play, and I think you'll be in for a treat.
The Seatopians - Underwater Ally (2019)
These Boise boys' debut record was also the debut release for the Altered State of Reverb label and surf fans noticed! With dark tones and dramatic melodies (plus one fun cover) Underwater Ally sucks you into its world.
The Jagaloons - Ruin the Party (2019)
Like a good noogie, The Jagaloons' debut is playful but mean-spirited. The guitar tone is nasty and and raw, with often dark tones, but you can absolutely move to these songs. As fun as this record is, it feels like a mere peek at a live set.
Mark Malibu & the Wasagas - Crash Monster Beach! (2016)
The original incarnation of the Wasagas was from 79-82, a Canadian surf revival band with a legacy mostly forgotten by an audience not ready for such a concept. The reformation of the Wasagas in the 2010s, however, is very welcome within today's surf world. Crash Monster Beach is a bright and loud record brimming with electricity and passion. Surf revival more than anything is about catching that 60's energy, and that's all over this record.
Miles High truly flies all over the place. The breezy opener is one of my favorite songs of the 2010s, but it sounds nothing like the exotica, east asian, psychedelic, mod, reggae, spaghetti western and just plain surf tracks that come after. A record that always keeps you on your toes and never drags you down.
This one has about all you could ask for from a trad surf record. Rousing energy from tracks like "Tesoura Voadora" and "Adrenal" but also unforgetable melodies from slower songs like "Blue Hawaii" and "Magala (Shot One)". Sometimes Brazilian releases don't catch the attention of the top hemisphere, but I'm glad this one found its way to enough people to end up on this list.
The Space Cossacks - Live Supernova (2016)
Y'all were bending the rules a little bit with this 2016 release of a 1998 concert, but it would be a shame if anybody let this pass by. And hey, they did some reunion shows in the 2010s, and this is sort of an acknowledgement that The Space Cossacks with their big and daring sounds are still a very relevant group to surf fans today.
The Tormentos - Ejecutan El Macabro Plan (2017)
The Tormentos deliver twelve delightful tunes thick with surftone. While they generally keep a quick and agile momentum, but I actually think the changes of pace like "El Macabro Plan del Dr. Breuer" and "Apa Maui" are big standouts on here. It's hard to go wrong with this band.
Just like this record comes in screaming, so did the Delstroyers with their high impact yet trad-friendly debut. There's a punk attitude, a pounding, relentless beat, hefty weight to the sound, but it's still distortion-free, reverbed-out and proud. What a rush!
On their previous records The Black Flamingos established their uniquely sour surf sound. On Speedway they unleashed it, getting wild, exotic, spooky, and of course fun. This is a group that likes to color outside the lines, and they demonstrate more than enough musicianship to do so tastefully.
Man or Astro-Man? - Defcon 5...4...3...2...1 (2013)
"The MOAM Defcon album has been particularly important to me since its release. Its helped me break some old ways of thinking and further stake out the evolution of our band." -Toneschaser.
Now this is an interesting one. The return of arguably the most important modern surf group was slowly revealed through a series of EPs, which previewed what form they would take. Perhaps predictably, it was a more post-punk sound akin to their later releases rather than their earlier surfier beginnings, and of course many tracks aren't instrumental. However, it's still MOAM and you can hear the might and crunch of records like Experiment Zero here, especially once you sweep away some new levels of might and crunch. There are so many surf fans that wouldn't be reading this list if not for this band, and though Defcon wasn't the defining statement of their career, it's a welcome part of an immaculate discography.
Once upon a time I thought this band was guilty pleasure. Their sound was different than other surf bands with their ultra-loud tones, constantly pushing rhythm guitar, gratuitous theremin and thick wall of noise behind them. It felt brutish and blunt, and though I listened to them a lot I figured that sound wouldn't go down smoothly for other surf fans. After seeing them in both California and Italy (both exceptionally great performances) it was clear that this sound resonated with a LOT of people. However, even before I discovered this, I knew that this record was a cut above their previous works. These songs are so dramatic and thematic, with moments that are truly arresting. Seeing them for the first time was song-after-song of "oh man, this song!" moments.
Bonus: this is one of my favorite surf album covers, and it's a little funnier that the artists is making a parody of his own work.
The Cavernarios - Camino a Varadero (2011)
What a transformation this band went through! The Cavernarios' self-titled was a pretty standard trashy garage/surf record, then 5 years later they release this: a lush instrumental record full of latin rhythms and chicha influence. But make no mistake, this is absolutely a surf record, with loud, strong guitars and a sun-soaked feel. Every time I listen I'm stunned by what I hear.
"Great get-up-and-go vibe to this one." -Malihini Mike.
The Bahareebas' 4th LP of high-energy traditional surf music flexes both hardened surf vocabulary and bold statements. There's the super-wet sound of "Moai from Outer Space", the thrilling build-up of "Longboard Alley", the slightly skew twang and heavy stomp of "Majuun". Simply put, it's a blast for any surf nut.
Dirty Fuse - Surfbetika (2013)
Miserlou is a testament to the multicultural origins of surf, and modern groups especially have soaked in global traditions to expand the sound of surf. And yet despite being a string-heavy music, rebetiko is rarely explored. Greek group Dirty Fuse took on the challenge of transforming their historical songs into a surf sound. It's a fascinating, special record that certainly sounds surf enough, but different enough to demand your attention and make you want to learn more.
Frankie and the Poolboys - The Adventures of Cap'n Coconuts (2013)
I would love to watch the imaginary cartoon this album soundtracks. This is a larger-than-life record that is paradoxically nakedly unserious yet deceptively meticulous in its craft. The lighthearted tracks like "Manx!" and "Monkey Pod" can trick you into not expecting breathlessly emotive songwriting like "Ripley in Love". This is a whole-hearted recording that truly feels like there was nothing left to add.
Daikaiju - Phase 2 (2010)
This is simply a list of albums, and though it seeks to tell a story of a small genre over the course of a decade, you can't do that by simply looking at albums. If you live in the USA, the eternal road warriors Daikaiju probably played a show near you at least twice... each year. Some surf bands have played shows abroad, but have you played shows in CHINA? Unless you're keeping a safe distance, the music is probably the last thing you're paying attention to at one of their shows, but regardless a lot of people drove home with a copy of this record playing on their car stereo, struggling to hear through fatigued ear drums. Though it leans heavily in a more prog direction than trad, it's a great, intense record that introduced hoards of people to surf music.
The Deadbeats - Day of the Deadbeats (2011)
The sole release from this San Francisco combo made a big splash! A concise sevens songs that are fast and heavy, but never letting that get in the way of precise, creative songwriting. From the tremendous opening roar to the crashing crescendo ending the record, it's an absolute whirlwind.
The 427s - Stay Gold (2018)
There's something that's just cool about the 427s. They play their songs exactly the way they ought to -- the loose and jumpy acoustic rhythm guitar in Bullitt, the mathematically dead-on picking in Redline, and the light-as-a-feather wilting notes of "Bella". There are so many thoughtful small touches sitting just beneath the melodies giving it a cinematic feel even if it doesn't quite feel like a soundtrack. It feels like a very complete record with more put into it than you can immediately extract with just one listen.