The Vanduras - In The Dark (2002)
The Blue Hawaiians - Savage Night (1999)
The Aqua Velvets - Guitar Noir (1997)
While some surf music epitomizes the visceral pleasures of brute physicality, of the heat of the sun, the cold of the ocean, the rolling epic thunder of the waves, there are also shadowy corners of surf, places where the instrumental guitar takes us into more sinister and exotic locales, without losing the crystalline clarity and echoing sense of atmosphere which characterize much surf music. The laid-back approach, the re-envisioning of the wave ride as a night cruise in a finned car, has its fruits, as these albums demonstrate.
Each is atmospheric - serving as excellent background music for late-night activities from cocktail parties to back alley transactions, while at the same time rewarding more detailed listening which reveals the beauty and skill at work in putting these pieces together. On that note, the Vanduras’ unlikely cover of Stereolab’s 'Cybele’s Reverie' would have to be one of my favourite covers of the year, setting the gorgeous melody in such a way that it takes wing – or perhaps wave. Indeed, choice of covers is also a strength for The Blue Hawaiians in the dark, excellent versions of 'A Cheat' and, particularly impressive, a slowed-down, spinetingling yet still somehow deeply funky 'Shakin’ All Over' – as well as a somewhat less successful version of Tom Waits’ 'Jockey Full of Bourbon,' which nonetheless is a choice demonstrating impeccable taste. The vocals, reminiscent of Chris Isaak, work perfectly in this context, and the few vocal songs weave in and out of the mix in a way which creates an integrated whole. There are touches of lounge swing and exotica to be found here and on Guitar Noir, which are mostly well chosen but occasionally mood-breakers; overall, however, these albums, taking instrumental surf guitar as a starting point, each create a moody atmosphere which traverses themes and styles of the forties, fifties and sixties. For something a little darker and more elegant – the Shag cocktail party, perhaps, thrown after a hard day at the waveface, after the last of the sand has been rinsed and the lava lamp lit – here is the perfect soundtrack.
See also: Don Tiki, The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Psycho Beach Party