I’d dismissed surf music for years as realistically represented by Dick Dale’s track on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, remembered from my teen years (not that I’d dismiss Dick Dale presently, but good-time Misirlou doesn’t really give a sense of the potential of surf for atmosphere, and the combination of driving joy and senseless euphoria with beauty and intricate technicality).
However, in the last year or two I’ve begun to realise the error of my ways and the many joys offered by bands old and new from The Ventures and Australia’s very own Atlantics to The Space Cossacks and Laika & The Cosmonauts – among others (not to mention those delectable areas where surf overlaps with tiki exotica, space age pop, and with darkwave and psychobilly). However, in terms of the genre overall, I would have to pick The Mermen as the unique cream – or perhaps foam – of this crop.
The sound of their early albums – their first, Krill Slippin', in particular – is unmistakeably surf – the monumental guitars, the echoing atmospherics, the rolling pull of the sound – but is also deeply psychedelic in the true sense – not the faux psychedelia of sixties and seventies rock with its clunkily naïve mysticism, its sitars and picturebook lyrics, nor the irritating melodiousness of psychedelic trance, but a psychedelia which combines dreaminess, insistence, the evocation of unfamiliar mental and physical states, the sense of a journey both embodied and transcendent. The bizarre beauty of the ocean documentary - one of my favourite televisula genres - is definitely an appropriate reference point.
As much as being a soundtrack to a white-plumed voyage above and within rolling waves populated by mer-creatures and horses of foam, Krill’ Slippin is also a soundtrack to a bedazzled, lazily drifting state of beach becalmedness infused with mild melancholia – in other words, perhaps the perfect summer music. While their later works tends towards being heavier and more experimental, Krill Slippin’ (with their second album, 1993’s Food For Other Fish, running a close second) is their masterpiece – a masterpiece of navigation between crests and lulls, the evocation of a half-mythical, echoing space of flows, located somewhere in uncharted waters.