Even though there are probably more instrumental surf bands active today than during the genre’s early-’60s heyday, it’s very much an underground movement, populated by indie labels, mostly younger players, and a few originators and predecessors, like Dick Dale and the surviving members of the Ventures.
So what happens when former members of two established bands get together to dip their toes in the surf? Will they overshadow those toiling in obscurity with their disproportionate share of the spotlight, or will they help raise the entire idiom’s profile – maybe even swell into mainstream outlets?
With three-fifths ofAustralia’s Midnight Oil and one-third ofMilwaukee’s Violent Femmes comprising the Break, the experiment is already underway. The opening “Squintro,” featuring a riff reminiscent of “Out Of Limits” over crushing drums, leaves no doubt that the years spent together paid off for guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey and drummer Rob Hirst – whether the Oils’ music bore any resemblance to surf or not. Likewise, Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie is right at home here, maybe because this is as fresh as it is retro.
With Moginie’s organ, “Winkipop” is a nod to Joe Meek’s productions, with an angular left turn from Rotsey’s Jazzmaster. “Five Rocks” refers to a Queensland surf spot as well as its time signature – with Hirst playing 5/4 top over 4/4 kick, while Rotsey adds some slide and Moginie supplies ultra-high, reverbed splatters. Elsewhere, Yardbirds bends, Theremin, Rotsey’s Fender Bass VI, chanting monks (oops – the Break again), and “pulsing Soviet synths” crop up. This debut by veterans raises the bar, as if to say, “It’s not enough to just get up there and play ‘Mr. Moto’ anymore.”
The eclectic bent of fellow Aussie Ben Rogers (who also plays acoustic folk with Vipers Dream and Djangostyle swing with the Ben Rogers Trio) serves him well in his Instrumental Asylum surf outlet.
This is his trio’s third CD since its 2005 debut. Whereas Welcome To Instrumental Asylum was more than half covers, Rogers writes all but three of the tunes here (with an occasional assist from drummer Nikki Scarlett and drummer Denis Close) – the covers being an overdriven take on Reinhardt’s “Anouman,” an unexpected ukulele/ guitar reading of “Beyond The Sea” (Ian Whitcomb meets Peter Green?), and a deconstructed ride on “Tell Him” by the girl group the Exciters.
“Last Coffee On Union Road” has a sort of vaudeville blues feel, with Rogers trading solos (on a Gibson Johnny A electric and National Tri-cone) with Martin Cilia of the early-’60s Australian surf combo the Atlantics.
Like most non-American lead guitarists in instro combos, Rogers’ most obvious influence is the Shadows’ Hank Marvin (as on “Never Seize To Amaze”), although he cops Duane Eddy’s deep tone perfectly for the intro to “Shuffle,” and his jazz influence is back on “Eddie’s Hip Joint” – presented in both final and equally charming demo versions.
Who knows? Maybe these dinki-di bands from Down Under will lead the charge for surf music everywhere. Oy!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.
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