Music

Surf Punks: Oh No! Not Them Again!

The final two albums from the '80s SoCal goofballs are amusing in small doses, but are hardly going to spark a surf punk revival.


Surf Punks

Oh No! Not Them Again!

Label: Noble Rot
First date: 1988
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: 2007-10-01
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One of the best things about Surf Punks is they were exactly what they said they were. In the late 1970s, the Malibu band aimed to apply the no-frills surfer ideal to punk in the same way the Beach Boys had applied it to rock 'n' roll in the 1960s. It was a novel idea, for sure. But, for a time at least, it succeeded, even if the Surf Punks story was weird and fragmented.

Adding to Surf Punks' unlikely premise was the fact that co-founder, producer, and drummer Dennis Dragon was the younger brother of "Captain" Daryl Dragon of the soft-rock duo Captain & Tennille. In another odd twist, both Dragon brothers had played with the Beach Boys themselves.

Fronted by vocalist Drew Steele, Surf Punks self-released an album in 1979. It was later picked up by Epic, who issued it as My Beach the following year. Punk's first wave was already dying out, and the band moved to indie Restless/Enigma for the 1982 follow-up Locals Only. Then, they disappeared for six years. This pair of re-issues on the new Noble Rot imprint picks up the story in 1988, when both Oh No! Not Them Again! and Party Bomb were released. These were Surf Punks' final two albums, and it's easy to hear why.

Surf Punks were a one-trick band, and Oh, No! Not Them Again! was their third album. What's amazing is that it took six years for Dragon and Steele to come up with this lame assortment of non-songs. Each track is played with the irreverent, delinquent, frat-boy-surfer-dude attitude the band was known for, but there's precious little to hold them together, even by the band's modest standards. There's punk, and then there's the aimless musical fragments that serve as the backdrop for Steele's narratives about girls, cops, "real" surfers, and poseur surfers. Never mind the establishment, or society's ills. In Surf Punks' world, a crisis issue is "Too Many Guys Out" messing with their wave karma.

The music itself is shrinky-dink, played on silly-sounding keyboards and clumsy electronic drums. Oh, No! Not Them Again! might be tolerable, a sort of early-Barenaked Ladies-style piss-take, were it at all clever. But the closest it comes is the deadpan TV send-up, "People's Court". A hard-rockin' cover of the Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" shows that, beneath all the juvenilia, there's some real taste, and SoCal ballad "Klo-Rene" is evidence Dragon and Steele could write actual songs. But too much of Oh No! Not Them Again! sounds like an amateur college band, rehearsing with cheap equipment, who forgot to turn off the tape recorder during a beer break. Bonus track "Camp Malibu" only strengthens that impression.

Ostensibly part of a Restless Records live series, Party Bomb resembles a live recording only in that it's made up almost entirely of material from the band's previous three studio albums. Essentially, these are re-recordings. There's no crowd noise or stage banter to be heard, so if anything here is really live, it's live in the studio. The title only confirms how Surf Punks had gone from being a legitimate underground band to a novelty act, from a band that made jokes to a band that was a joke. Nonetheless, the material on display makes Party Bomb enjoyable, and a decent primer on the band.

Nearly half the songs are from My Beach, which may explain the need for re-recording them for a different label. Anyway, "No Fat Chicks" and "Big Top" at least follow the frat-humor theme to a logical, if sexist, conclusion. "Big Top", by the way, is not about the circus. "No time for waves / Let's talk about those boobs!" proclaims Steele in the least poetic ode to the female breast since Joe Walsh's "I Like Big Tits". The poseur-dissing on "The Dummies" gets points over the likes of "Too Many Guys Out" for wielding a big, loud hook. The punked-up rockabilly of "Shoulder Hopper" actually shows some musical chops.

The covers on Party Bomb stick pretty close to the originals. The sound and production are cleaner, and you can sense the influence of then-omnipresent hair metal creeping in. But these qualities actually suit what Surf Punks had become, and for what it is, Party Bomb is entertaining and often pretty funny.

Surf Punks hardly went unnoticed. The influence of Steele's heavily-phased, ironic delivery and the band's relatively lightweight, metal-tinged sound can be heard most notably in the mega-selling '90s releases of fellow SoCal punks the Offspring. These two reissues, while pretty well executed, hardly tell the best part of Surf Punks' story. New issues of My Beach and Locals Only would take care of that. The out-of-print original CD versions of those titles fetch big bucks on the used market. Of the pair under consideration, though, Party Bomb is worthwhile. As for Oh No! Not Them Again!, two words come to mind. Beach Frisbee.

3

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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