It's great to make music that sounds like the 60's, but sometimes you just want to make the surf music you want to make. Or maybe you want to push the genre beyond where it's been. There were a lot of great options here this year, and while I don't think my selections paint the full picture, these are the records that I felt were the best from start to finish.
Halibears - Helsinki Twister
We surf fans tend to be a very guitar oriented people, so it's a little eyebrow-raising seeing a band like Halibears where the lead songwriter is on drums and each track features one guitar... split between three people. Helsinki Twister is a understated record that doesn't aim to sound like more than it is, doesn't push boundaries, but delights with what it has to offer. These are simple songs that occasionally scoot along with groovy rhythms and jazzy moments, and feature way too much keyboard for me to call this trad surf. It's not a wower, but it's a smiler the whole way through.
Supertubos - The Fourth Drive
William J. Le Petomane - Cocktails for One
At this point an instrumental WJLP record feels like it's automatically finding its way here. You can pretty much guarantee that you'll have tight, bright-and-friendly songs that have simple melodies but intricate arrangements. And if that all feels too safe, you've always got tracks with a little bit of fuzz-pedal teeth or exotic/flamenco/spanish elements to throw you off-balance. WJLP always knows how to push a song just a little bit to make it go past good and into special. Somebody find him a backing band and bring him out to some festivals.
The Desolate Coast - Without a Planet
Mark Malibu & The Wasagas - Haunted Hotrod Beach Party
There have been several Gremmy mentions going to compilations of works released in the past few years, and it admittedly makes me feel a little uneasy about whether they're eligible. But how can I keep this one off? Not only do I think this is the best album they've released, but The Wasagas strung it all together with snippets of a goofy (but well-produced!) old-time radio play. Their past three EPs have all been song-for-song solid gold -- one with a drag-race theme, one with a loose mod dance-party theme, and one spooky one -- but they even pad it out with six tracks that are either new or singles pulled from other compilations. Admittedly, those radio plays get the skip button when the record is on shuffle, but what a way to make a record of scraps feel more cohesive than most records conceived as a full-length!