Local Albums: April 2010 – Being of a certain age, and having been a kid in 1960s California, surf music is totemic to me. From listening to my uncle’s Beach Boys records on a blonde-tolex-covered suitcase record player, to hearing “Wipeout” played by every garage band on my walk home from Booksin Elementary in San Jose, surf music is a part of me, like the sand that stays in your Chuck Taylors after a trip to the beach, no matter how much you shake them out. Listening to Surf Zombies brings it all back.
It helps that this is simple, elemental rock ‘n’ roll, from back when you plugged your Fender guitar directly into your Fender amplifier, and only the singer got a microphone. Simplicity and adherence to the conventions of the genre can either produce monotony or brilliant economy of means. “Something Weird” manages to stay fresh, song to song, without any pretense to innovation. The title track is a case in point, veering between loud and soft passages anchored around on a minor chord progression and tasty finger-picked rhythm guitar. The guitar solo in the last 40 seconds of the song is nearly perfect, starting with a low buzz, turning into atonal harmonics before morphing into perfectly whammy-bar bent wails.
Some of the tracks, like “Don’t Let The Admiral Out” are more reminiscent of those awful Annette Funicello movies–you know, the ones where Buddy Hacket runs the Surf Shack and Stevie Wonder shows up out of nowhere to play harmonica?–but I’m willing to forgive them the occasional lapse into corny whimsy as long as they return to their core competencies. “Candy Cigarettes,” for instance is a sweet little detour into what sounds like French Nouvelle Vague soundtrack music. On “Alien Eyes,” the Zombies retool the soaring Fender melodicism of the Tornado’s “Telstar” and make it their own. These guys played their first gig opening for the king of surf guitar, Dick Dale, and they throw in the occasional Dale-esque arabesque burner. But what makes these guys great is that they’re keeping the faith without repeating the same damn prayers.