Despite the world grinding to a halt, 2020 proved to be a surprisingly fruitful year for surf. And just like 2021 ended up not being as different from 2020 as we'd hoped, 2021 compared similarly to the previous year's bountiful instrumental outlet. But there are other things that may not be remembered from the recordings. For instance, surf music once again was played live in countries across the globe. Though most of the larger festivals were again delayed, some surf festivals resumed! There were notable reunions like The Bomboras, Pollo Del Mar, and Man or Astro-Man (more of a hibernation thaw in their case). And of course, as is the case any year, notable legends of the genre passed away. And to be honest, given as much death as the world has faced, I consider us lucky that we lost as few as we did. Overall, I think it was a great year for this music.
But let's talk about the Gremmys. The Gremmy Awards are my yearly roundup of surf records. It's a meticulous, laborious, but not joyless sifting through a mountain of instrumental music released in the span of a year and trying to recognize what stood out, categorize it to make some sense, and clumsily shove my thoughts into words.
While I've heard a lot, I haven't heard everything, and I've given almost nothing the deep listening a good album truly deserves. There's no sceintific approach to taste, and despite how much thought I've put into this, it all does still come down to my own personal beliefs, which are as subject to unfair whims and bias as much as anybody's. I do try to mitigate this somewhat with the Guest Gremmys, but as hard as I try to choose records that have some value as classics within the genre, I'll be the first to volunteer that I sometimes pick things that in a few years have me thinking "that?" and I sometimes leave things off that down the line end up being special to me.
There are several categories that I will desribe below. Each category has Honorable Mentions and one selection chosen as the winner. I try to make sure that the Honorable Mentions are all records that I would equally recommend without hesitation.
Here are the categories. I'll link them as they go live
- THE BIG LIST: A gigantic unranked list of every surf release I can find.
- Best Album Art: Self-explanatory. Not really about the music within.
- Best Trad Surf Record: Surf records that try to capture the sound and spirit of the 60s.
- Best Modern Instro Record: These groups build upon years of surf revivalism with their sound as well as combining influences from other genres.
- Best "Rad" Surf Record: Fast and hard-hitting surf records, often with a strong punk influence.
- Best "Mad" Instro Record: Records that either intentionally flip surf conventions on their head or are only questionably surf while still holding surf appeal.
- Rest of the Best: Miscellaneous Categories that I feel are worth mentioning.
- Guest Gremmys: I asked some trusted figures and friends in surf music what stood out to them.
And just as a lighthearted gauge of what everybody else thinks, what are your favorite surf records of 2021? This poll is entirely meaningless and easily cheated, don't take too much stock in it, but have fun.