Gremmy Awards 2023: Best Trad Surf Record

Best Trad Surf Record

Surf music has come a long way, but it didn't need to! Some groups are ready to go with a reverb tank and a Sentinals record. This category is for bands that are trying to recapture the magic rather than develop it.

The idea of "traditional" is complex, as 60's surf bands weren't entirely homogenous either. And some groups may be mostly tradtional, but we can't help being the modern people we are and letting some things creep in. That goes for the musicians and my own biases. I try my best to put things in this category based on my perception of their intent and the spirit of the record. It's surprisingly rare to find a surf record that's genuinely a dead ringer for a 60's record... and then it has to actually be good to make this list! There might be some oddballs on here, but I think most of these belong here rather than elsewhere.

Honorable Mentions

Shorty's Swingin' Coconuts - Surf Shack Shindig

It's funny that I'd call a band with multiple songs prominently featuring steel guitar one of the bands that stuck most closely to traditional surf on this list, but those tracks are the exception; most of this is solid sun-baked surf ready for the beach. Songwriting stands out here, with each listen bringing out another favorite. And let's not discount those steel guitar tracks either, which are not only lovely but fit in just perfectly.

Los Grainders - Surf Beat '23

It took over 10 years for Mexico's Los Grainders to release an official debut album! And they're still relatively young for surf music! Surprisingly for a group born out of skateboarding, their sound isn't built on wild thrills and danger, but lush baths in surftone. Their more patient and deep sound evokes groups like Bradipos IV and Black Flamingos, and their three-guitar configuration certainly brings Satan's Pilgrims to mind as well. It might take a bit to sink in, but it sinks deep!

Magnatech - An Evening With Magnatech

Magnatech has been busy. They (it's mostly one guy but I'll treat it as a band) had over 80 released songs since the their debut in mid-2020, two dozen this year spanning three releases, and I think that dedication has paid off as I see whisperings of the name on social media more and more often. I want to call Magnatech trad surf, but it's difficult. That guitar sound goes beyond drippy and straight into sloshy at times, but also with tasteful lo-fi clipping in the way that gives surf 45s that extra bit of energy. It's not something I could compare to a vintage band, but it doesn't sound un-vintage either. And while the drums feel a little drum-machiney, the songwriting feels pretty narrow-focused to the simplicity of the 60's. In the end, Magnatech is Magnatech more than they are a vintage group, but it feels like they take a lot of the choicest pieces of 60's surf music and magna-fy them to great effect and in plentiful number.

I chose this LP because it's the most Magnatech for your buck, but I actually considered the six-song EP instead, as some of my favorite Magnatech songs are on it. This Honorable Mention is basically meant as a stand-in for all Magnatech releases this year.

Cosmic Mud - Nowheremansland

Despite a name and possibly even album cover that scream psychedelic, this is a surprisingly straight-laced surf record with only occasional veerings off the path. I believe Cosmic Mud is a bedroom project of one person, and while it can feel small and perhaps a little lacking in oomph, I think it also brings out that primitive sincerity that feels locked away to the original era. His riffs have space and beauty, the bass feels mysterious and cool, and it feels like he's really replicating the feelings of 60's surf musicians instead of an imitation of the sound.

The Fuzillis - Grind a Go Go Vol. 2

I know it says "traditional surf" right up there at the top, but The Fuzillis evoke vintage American instrumentals that *aren't* coming from SoCal. These days you can kind of sum it up with the ebay search term "tittyshaker" -- these are party-oriented instrumentals with influence from the likes of The Fabulous Wailers, The Champs, Freddie King, and the teenage dancehall bands that were burning it up with super fast versions of "Night Train". Overblown sax all over the place, lightning-fingered guitar picking, a cover of the classic , and a can't-quit tempo make this a helluva party. A few vocals here and there, but the instrumentals are some of the most fun songs I've heard this year.

And the Gremmy goes to...

Hipbone Slim aka Sir Bald - Wiggin' Out

Hipbone Slim aka Sir Bald - Wiggin' Out

Mark Painter may have not figured out a cohesive naming system, but he's had a surf sound locked in for something like 30 years at this point. Wiggin' Out is a collection of recent instrumentals collected across several of his different bands (and it omits a few excellent ones from The Mings!) and if these were sixty years old 45s, I think they'd be highly saught after. Whereas many bands have a song in the style of Link Wray, Sir Mark Slim Legs manages to inject that ratty sound into surf music effortlessly. Every track has great cut-throat energy, always simple as they should be, none of them worth skipping. As much as I like recognizing rising stars bringing new energy into this music, it also feels good to recognize somebody that's been plugging away at it for ages and never missing a beat.

This was a bit of a tough call for the sake of rules. Is a compilation of works from before 2023 eligible for an award for music from 2023? But I reminded myself that the Gremmy Awards are mostly here as a reccomendation, and if somebody asked me "what's the best traditional surf record released in 2023 that I can buy?", I feel like any of these are strong answers (as is the point), but if I had to pick one I'd choose this with confidence. Besides, even as somebody that has some of these on other releases, it's nice having the instrumentals in one place.

Here's your shiny .png file.

Trad Surf Gremmy


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