This is a category for hybrid organisms with surf in their DNA but plenty of other things too. That can be plenty of things of course, so the definition is pretty subject to my own whims. That said, I really like this batch this year. These were all great releases and though their share very little with each other, I hope you can appreciate them all.
Stereophonic Space Sound Unlimited - The Flawless Ms Drake
Simply one of the strongest releases from a never-miss band. Interesting and complex instrumentation is pretty much a given from them, but the imaginary soundtrack theme results in a more focused record with a bit more cinematic and emotional songwriting -- not to mention some killer spy guitar. Meanwhile it's got "Land of Swinging Atoms" which is one of the most original sounding songs I've heard in a while regardless of genre.
Les Robots - Exploring the Boundaries of the Multiverse
edit: I was wrong, also available on double LP and cassette!
Blue Spectre - Silverscreen
This is an incredibly hard one to sum up, as each track seems to be working with an entirely different set of ideas, but suffice it to say this is several steps beyond their more surfish material on their 2015 EP. They've stated direct influences from the likes of Can, William Onyeabor, The Residents, Oh Sees, and others, and it certainly teeters between whether this is a surf album with influences such as those, or whether this is an instrumental post-punk record with surf influences. It really doesn't matter, it's a thrilling mix of thought-provoking sounds and surf guitar intensity that never goes off the rails but gives you a view like you've never seen.
Los Bitchos - Let the Festivities Begin
Son de Huesos - Magia Negra
And the Gremmy Goes to....
The Manakooras - Jungle of Steel
I think we all know that surf and exotica are near neighbors, and it's unsurprising that a (super?)group of surf musicians could put together a good exotica record. But this is a special one.
The concept of pairing Hawaiian-style steel guitar with exotica music is so natural that, if you're like me, you'd swear you'd heard it a million times but would fail to think of an example. Maybe there's been more than I think, and they just weren't memorable. Not the problem here, with every track bringing something interesting and delightful to the table.
The steel guitar is stellar -- as somebody who has a weakness for the instrument, it just grabs me and never lets go. But there's something to be said for everything else. Excellent, detailed recording with great attention to dynamics, preciously restrained surf guitar licks, understatedly active percussion, and enough kitschy additions to keep it fun without being embarrassing. For instance, just now I realized that the ambient noise filling out "Zombie Hula" was frogs. This is a lights down, volume up, ideally on vinyl recording.
There was another album in this list that I probably listened to slightly more (though I'm not sure any song got spun more than "Lujon"). This wins because I think this is the album I'll be thinking of, recommending, and mentioning more for years to come.