Gremmy Awards 2022: Best Mad Instro Record

Best Mad Instro

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.

Honorable Mentions

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

This band is a Gremmy mainstay, appearing in this category every time they release something including when they won in... let's see... 2019 in the... trad surf category??? I guess I've gotta go back and listen to their first one. Their releases are generally tightly bundled to fit their ideal medium. However, previously that was 7" or 12" vinyl -- this is a CD release that sprawls just shy of an hour. It's got plenty of brilliant tightly penned spronk & roll tracks, but they also let themselves float into space and head into horizons unknown. I'd be lying if I said all of it was wonderful. I think they would be too. But it's certainly the weirdest one from a weird band, and there's plenty enough of the great stuff from a great band too.

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

I feel like I've seen plenty of bands try to present a world fusion sound with a high-minded, educated record collector angle. Los Bitchos present their deeply complex pastiche of global guitar sounds as a loose party with effortless fun that betrays the thought that must have gone into it. It's a Rorschach record; you're probably hearing different influences than I am at any given moment, be it surf, cumbia, turkish or 2000's dance punk -- but I bet you're gonna feel like moving all the same.

Son de Huesos - Magia Negra

Years ago, at least as I perceive it, Chicha Libre and the compilation they produced Roots of Chicha, dragged chicha and cumbia into at least some amount of limelight for the larger english-speaking music world, and it seems that cumbia has exploded since then. Some surf fans took note of the work of Sonido Gallo Negro, whose psychedelic cumbia sounded otherworldly. They're still around, they even released a pretty good album this year with some interesting covers. However, I don't feel like Son de Huesos have attracted the same attention despite pumping out consistently fantastic albums in the same vein for the past few years while getting slightly more surf-influenced each time. And every time I think "perhaps I've heard enough" they throw a curveball -- in this case adding some exotica twists. I think this band's work is nothing short of magical.

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.

Mad Instro Gremmy


Share This





is a SURF & INSTRUMENTAL ROCK & ROLL radio show on

Every Monday from 4-6pm CST

Here's a to help you remember

Listen to WTUL

SSOR is not broadcasting right now, but there's always something interesting on at WTUL

Stream WTUL

or go to WTUL's website