The Top 100 Surf Records of the 2010s: 20-1

The final chunk of the is here, with plenty of longstanding surf heavyweights but also some great new upstarts. Thank you to everybody that voted on this list and I hope you're satisfied with the results!

20.

Insect Surfers - Infra Green

Insect Surfers - Infra Green

As the oldest continuously operating surf group, Insect Surfers are naturally thought of as a group from the 80's, but the 2010s were a big decade for them. I think I personally saw them perform 4 times in 3 different cities, and they released two excellent LPs of originals plus one rarities compilation. Infra Green is a wild psychedelic adventure that clearly projects Dave Arnson's wild energy.


19

Blackball Bandits - The Lost Mission

Blackball Bandits - The Lost Mission

After a slew of great demo and EP recordings, Blackball Bandits released a big shiny real-deal LP on Double Crown and it sure did hit the spot. It's an album full of adventure with a vibrant surf sound, always fun even when they're aggressive, spooky, Western, etc. It's a tight production full of great musicianship and songwriting. This top 20 is going to have a number of long-standing legendary modern surf groups, and having these relative newcomers break into that sort of company is initially surprising, but feels right.


18.

The Concussions - Newaygo Sound Machine

The Concussions - Newaygo Sound Machine

Man, how do I even write about The Concussions? They're just different. They're not explicitly surfy, and their melodies aren't reaching for the same sort of strident moment-to-moment emotional reaction as many surf groups do -- but they lurk and move and pull you under. Each time I listen to a new Concussions album I think "eh, it's OK, not quite as fun as the last one" and then five consecutive spins later I disagree with myself entirely.


17.

Bang! Mustang! - Surfin' N.S.A.

Bang! Mustang! - Surfin' N.S.A.

Bang! Mustang! are one of those bands that really feel like they're always trying to push it. Their sound is huge, the guitarwork is flashy and tonally diverse, with great interplay between guitarists. Surfin' NSA is a larger-than-life record that impresses song after song.


16.

The Volcanics - Forgotten Cove

"This album is a complete package. Every song glides into each other beginning to end. Totally overlooked. So well done."  Mike "Malihini Mike" Castellanos.

The Volcanics released three fantastic records in this decade and perhaps better than any of the elite groups in this top 20 infuse their traditional surf sound with teenage heart. I think it's the sweaters. Forgotten Cove is perhaps their most adventurous, with a little more darkness and a few slightly more unexpected touches, but any of their releases would deserve to rank highly in this countdown.


15.

Messer Chups - Church of Reverb

Messer Chups - Church of Reverb

Towards the end of the 2000's Messer Chups shape-shifted from a spastic electro-surf hybrid to a more simple surf combo, though I wouldn't call them traditional. By now they have released significantly more music as a surf combo -- in fact I think they've relased roughly 15 records in the 2010s?! -- and they remain one of the most popular surf groups on the planet. For fans hearing this and feeling overwhelmed by their vast catalog, fear not: Just about all of these feature the same springy, haunting twang and goofball kitschy horror humor.


14.

The Mystery Men? - Sonos Delirium

Had I cast my own votes and not instead played (not impartial) moderator, I would have had The Mystery Men?'s ambitious and beleaguered record Firewalkers in this spot. but the votes were clear. And really, it's hard to argue for one over the other. Though Sonos Delirium is a little more comfortable with keeping its sound within a familiar surf space, it's one of those records that has you saying "oh, THIS song" with each track. It's an envigorated and inspired record and one befitting of the band that stands as the most prominent representative of surf music in the Southeastern US.


13.

El Ray - Evil Mermaid

El Ray - The Evil Mermaid

Only seven songs but still feeling like a complete trip, El Ray are masters of volume and momentum, wielding power even when they slow down. As wild an thrilling as the more original tracks are, I also love their savage take on Penetration. This band is one of the true kings of modern surf music.


12.

Surfer Joe - Swell of Dwell

Surfer Joe - Swell of Dwell

Swell of Dwell is the most recent release from the most prominent trad surf stalwart/Astronauts scholar/international tourer/international festival organizer/Italian American-style Diner owner. I've seen it more succinctly summed up as International Ambassador of Surf. That'll work too. This is one of those records where the songs get further etched into my consciousness and sound better each time. It absolutely hits the spot for traditional fans, and I dare say it sounds meaner, louder and better live. And as I've pointed out with a few other winners previously, a list of albums is not a full picture of a decade, and Lorenzo's importance has been immeasurable in how he has turned his passion for this music into something larger for the global surf community.


11.

The Tomorrowmen - It's About Time

Adopting a sci-fi theme invites all sorts of expectations such as theremins, b-movie clips, and/or Man or Astro-man influence. In the case of The Tomorrowmen, I think it's best to set all of those expectations aside because this is a songs-first shtick-second record. These are progressive surf song structures -- no beach party surfbeat here -- with themes of adventure and intrigue. The guitarwork is challenging and aggressive, pushing off of chasmic bass sounds, and sometimes the players just sound so locked in to each other it's arresting.


10.

The Aqualads - Treasures

The Aqualads - Treasures

"I’m a sucker for trad surf so of course love all of their albums.  Treasures is my favorite of their albums and I can play Whirling Dervish over and over again and not get bored!" -Tien Doan.

When compiling this list I expect there to be some recency bias, so I was impressed that so many people went straight for a record from a band whose last LP was in 2011 (though check out their new 2020 EP!). The talent was always there, but this record sounds amazing. There's a breakdown in Washout that you almost want to stop and instantly rewind. Treasures is simply the total package with songs that make an impact with force and emotion at the same time. 


9.

The Bambi Molesters - As the Dark Wave Swells

The Bambi Molesters - As the Dark Wave Swells

The announcement that The Bambi Molesters were done cut deep within the surf community. They were a band the created a sonic space all of their own and this swan song album achieved this better than ever before. "As the Dark Wave Swells" is such an apt title too, still keeping surf at its core but capturing that sense of mystery and power from a deep place.


8.

Los Straitjackets - Jet Set

Los Straitjackets - Jet Set

Los Straitjackets were sitting on top of the surf world for over 15 years when this album was released, with many surf fans (myself included) able to cite them as a key band that brought them into the fold. I think this legacy is why I've seen people whisper on facebook, "Is it weird that this is my favorite LSJ album?". It's not. Their chops are basically immaculate at this point and they've loosened their adherence to the surf rulebook while keeping a tight grip on their songwriting. Sure, you've got goofball tracks like "Space Mosquito" and bombastic stuff like "Crime Scene" but "Aerostar" can stand toe-to-toe with their smooth classic "Close to Champaign" and "Pop Rocks & Coke" is the simple perfection that could have easily sat on their first few records. Like adding a new wing to your house, it's the same thing you love but enhanced. Let's hope for a new original full-length sometime soon, it's been long enough!


7.

Los Frenéticos - Teletransportación

There were three Los Freneticos LPs in this decade, each of them warm and friendly like sunshine, and each deserving of this list. Teletransportacion is their most cohesive work to date, with a persistent vibe from start to finish that leaves you feeling you like just compressed a nice weekend into 32 minutes. While the album title is a reference to the fact that it was made with remote collaboration (no adjustment needed for today), I think that many people that got to see them on tour (including an extensive US tour) were struck by their explosive chemistry on stage -- not to mention their enthusiasm off-stage for other acts. You can't help but like these guys both on the record and in person.


6.

The Phantom Four - Morgana

The Phantom Four - Morgana

Between this record and Mandira, I think Phantom Four probably hold the greatest number of standout, iconic surf songs to be released in this decade. It helps that they sound like nobody else, with their sound borrowing just as much from fringe instrumental influences such as Anatolian rock, chicha, Indian music, rautalanka etc. as they do from surf, and with their songs being more propelled by their percussive groove than raw guitar force. Phantom Frank's guitar style is one of the most interesting ever to grace this music, and this band is a shining example of how modern surf music is expanding on the concept.


5.

The Kilaueas - Wiki Waki Woooo

The Kilaueas - Wiki Waki Woooo

The Kilaueas love a joke, as demonstrated in ways such as ridiculous on-stage outfits and song-titles ("Why Do Fools Fall in Lava" is an all-time favorite, though that's from Touch My Alien). However, I find their approach to surf music itself to be pretty serious and artful. The sound is important: plenty of drip, deep and bouyant reverb that really opens up a space, and sometimes you can tell the'll play a chord not for melodic reasons but to bring you a sound to sit in, or quickpick for a satisfying, grinding low rumble. This is pushed along by some great, propulsive drumming that feels traditional enough but reacts well to the guitars. While there's certainly enough energy, I think this is more of a pretty record than the wild title implies -- and I'm not complaining.


4.

Les Agamemnonz - De A à Z

Les Agamemnonz - De A à Z

"this album crosses many boundaries. It is like travel by sound." - Mike "Malihini Mike" Castellanos

Upon first listen I remember being struck by how fresh and different Les Agammemnonz sounded. Relistening today, I'm struck by how they achieve it by not being that dfiferent. They are not a hybrid band with a touch of surf; it's entirely surf but from a different energy. They're playful, curious, and occasionally zap with you a bolt when they want your attention. For a lot of the voters, I suspect their intrigue towards this group blossomed into adoration upon seeing them live, barefoot and in togas, bouncing with glee and perhaps throwing cardboard props into the audience. How often do you walk away from a concert and think "I needed that"?


3.

The Madeira - Ancient Winds

"All the Madeira albums are great but to me, they put it all together on this album, where the pummeling force of their music is matched by equally memorable melodies!" -Tien Doan.

The Madeira are a front-and-center example of a modern surf group -- you certainly wouldn't think they're a vintage SoCal group, or even somewhere across the globe from the same era (even when you have a member of The Atlantics playing). But I think fancy guitar playing and colossal sounds aren't the feature, The Madeira are so popular because they're so great at pushing emotion with their music. This album has some of the heaviest songs of the decade, but the beautiful title track can feel light as a feather. The narrative here is extremely palpable and gripping, and it really feels like so much thought went into this record.


2.

The Bradipos IV - The Partheno-Phonic Sound Of

The Bradipos IV - The Partheno-Phonic Sound Of

"No question, for me the album of the year 2016" -Uwe Kerzinger. I should mention that this album and their other one Lost Waves got the same amount of votes. There's something so immersive about their songs and their tone, even more so when seen live. Partheno-phonic is actually mostly classic neopolitain "covers" but they translate so well to surf here that it's hard to imagine they could be anything else. I almost feel like ranking this record does it a disservce -- don't listen to it like it'll blow you away, just put it on and let it automatically pull you along.


1.

Satan's Pilgrims - Siniestro

Satan's Pilgrims - Siniestro

There was no contest here. In 2009 Satan's Pilgrims released their first LP in 10 years. It was great, but it wasn't the same thing as their top-tier 90's surf output. Siniestro was a tremendous announcement said with a blue devil's confident grin that 18 years of patience had been rewarded. They have what you were looking for. While many bands on this list excel with complex arrangements tethered arround surf guitar, expanding the sound, Siniestro is full of dead-simple melodies played with a tremendously hulking surf sound. The result is something that feels classic, and you can just imagine people in 20 years whispering incredulously, "you have a black velvet cover Siniestro?!"

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