Laika & the Cosmonauts are, in simplest terms, a Finnish surf band. “A Finnish surf band?” you ask. Well, it may seem odd, but consider that Finland, while a bit far north to be a center of beach activity, at least borders on some bodies of water. That’s more than you can say for the locales of many surf bands. Truth be told, though, only one member of Laika & the Cosmonauts has ever been on a surfboard.
Nonetheless, the Finnish foursome so deftly execute their brand of instrumental rock that few music fans should need convincing. They’ve previously released six albums, but the cleverly titled Laika Sex Machine is their first live recording. As the cheesy disco dance photos on the disc’s cover imply, Laika & the Cosmonauts aren’t hell-bent on borrowing strictly from 1960s sounds and images. Instead, Mikko Lankinen, Matti Pitsinki, Tom Nyman, and Janne Haavisto incorporate various rock sounds to round out their repertoire.
Take, for example, the reggae-influenced keyboard lines and drumming on the opener, “The Hypno-Wheel”. At times, the song assumes a dub feel, while at other moments spaghetti-western guitar riffs come to the forefront. Similarly, the guitar sound on the fabulously titled “Look! No Head!” owes as much to heavy metal riffing as surf guitar. It’s this odd mingling of styles that keeps Laika & the Cosmonauts from becoming just another surf revival group.
Still, there are plenty of tracks that will please surf-rock traditionalists. The Cosmonauts cover the classic themes from the television show “The Avengers” and the cool Michael Caine classic Get Carter. Their rendition of “Mission Impossible” is an especial treat that sounds like it was fueled by a speed binge. Another clever touch is the group’s blending of the themes from Psycho and Vertigo to create “Psyko”.
The only real downside to Laika Sex Machine is its length. The Cosmonauts should have taken a lesson from Yep Roc labelmates Los Straitjackets, who released their own live album at the same time, and pared down the 75-minute disc. The tracks actually get better as the album progresses, but some listeners, particularly those unaccustomed to instrumental albums, might lose interest before they get to the really good stuff.