I've really been struck by how many fantastic surf releases this year, and every time I reflect on this I've reminded myself that there are a few looming releases threatening to crash my mental list of favorites. Any Satan's Pilgrims release holds that promise, but this is a particularly meaningful one as it's the last one that will feature their classic lineup with their late guitarist Dave Busacker who passed away in March 2021.
While aspects of the production of this album were likely done with Dave weighing heavily on their mind, I believe the album was written, performed, and recorded without knowledge that Dave wouldn't see its release. And so rather than a tribute to Dave Pilgrim, this album really strikes me as a more overt tribute to the many facets of instrumental music that we simplify as "surf". Sure, they've always been doing that, nearly everybody I write about is doing that. However, Psychsploitation was, well, kinda right there in the title, and Siniestro felt like a whole-hearted effort to return to traditional surf... Go Action!! feels like it's not trying to be a concept record, but more of a celebration of some specifics.
The very first five seconds of the record are a near perfect replica of the "intro" to The Ventures classic "Ginza Lights" (quotes around intro because there are kinda two intros to that song). It's overtly an eleki song, but the quick flashes of different sounds makes it a great intro to the record, with floor toms creating a sort of jungle adventure vibe, fuzz guitar giving it edge, and a keyboard whine giving it mystery.
In modern surf music, "drag" often means engine noises and maybe some fuzz guitar, and I'm surprised that I can't think of many groups actually trying to reproduce the Gary Usher/Early Beach Boys vocal drag racing music sound. "Gear Grinder" features very limited vox in the capacity of "Ha-mmmm" and a litttle "woo-ee-oo-oo". It's a surprisingly simple song, it almost feels like you could karaoke some vocals on top of it, but the rhythm feels perfect for what they're going for. It was an immediate standout upon listening, with great vibes and a refreshing sound despite being so familiar. It feels like SP identified something hiding in plain sight.
"On the Seaside Strip" is immediately sounds like Fabulous Wailers to me, and I feel pretty confident about that because they posted this on Facebook: "Presenting "Riot on the Seaside Strip" our ode to the great PNW bands of the 60s and the town of Seaside, OR, where spring breakers went to hear The Wailers, The Ventures, The Sonics, Don and the Goodtimes, Mr. Lucky and the Gamblers, and many more, eventually leading to the "Seaside Riots" of 1964. The riots were eventually quelled when the Seaside police agreed to let The Wailers play on a rooftop for free at the turnaround."
Now most of these homages I've mentioned so far are vintage, but I swear the simple sunshiney melody in "Clam Diggin'" reminds me of -- at first glance -- The Volcanics. And then I started doubting it. It could be nobody, and I could be listening for shapeshifting more often than it's warranted in this review. I'm taking a lot of swings and inevitably I'm gonna miss a lot. But it's fun to do, so I'll continue.
The easy pace and especially harmonica of "Captain's Cove" evokes Endless Summer (correction: melodica!).
There's more Harmonica on "Southwester", which feels a little more rodeo than it does spaghetti (correction: accordion!). It's a really interesting take on a "western" sound, and if they're directly aiming for any particular inspiration I'll throw a hail mary pass at The Texans but I'm mostly stumped. It's very possible that a very talented and creative band did something creative and interesting on their own.
And there's more little bits here and there. The keyboards of "Hairpin" reminds me of The Chantays for instance. The sickly guitar tone of "Spider Island" reminds of a certain vintage horror surf song that I can't conjure so I'll say The Frantics - Werewolf in its place (weeks later edit: I was thinking of The Belairs - Vampire). The album cover evokes Mike Curb biker movie soundtracks.
But with all these wild guesses I worry that I might be painting the wrong picture; this is a Satan's Pilgrims record here, and in celebrating the many groups that contributed to who they are, it feels like they're celebrating themselves just as much. You've got a glorious tone, fantastic musicianship, inventive drumming, and the results of a tight group that's honed their surf craft over decades. "La Luna" sounds a lot like "Bombora" by the Original Surfaris, but it sure does "sing" it in a Satan's Pilgrims voice. The variety here doesn't sound disjointed -- it sounds like they're free. So it's understandable that this record could be portrayed as a tribute to their departed member, as it feels like a joyful tribute to all that is Satan's Pilgrims.
I don't know what the future of Satan's Pilgrims looks like. They are still playing some select shows, such as an induction into the Oregon music hall of fame, and a tribute to their missing member called "Davestomp" which is happening (*checks facebook*) in a few hours after I publish this. But we've been blessed to have had them in this in this incarnation for this long, and this is as fitting a close to a chapter as any, regardless of whether the story continues.
You can (and should) grab this on vinyl or CD from Hi-Tide or digital through bandcamp.