The Sonoras - El Baile del Silencio
A lot of surf-styled spaghetti western wouldn't be mistaken for an Italian soundtrack, and The Sonoras are a great example of why that's not a bad thing. They deftly implement the rousing rhythms, swelling crescendos, and mournful moods that we connect to the soundtracks, but with surf guitar and more rock&roll song structures.
Els A-Phonics - & Friends
How? How did this group get so many big-name surf musicians from all over the world onboard? Apparently it was mostly recorded the night before the Surf-o-Rama festival in 2014, so John Blair, Deke Dickerson, Nokie Edwards, Mike Barbwire, Johnny Bartlett (Untamed Youth), Fernando Pardo (Los Coronas) and Mario Cobo and Dani Ne.lo (Mambo Jambo) were all in town. About half of them are on the track "Guitar Party" alone. It's a fun mix-up of surf tunes that sound great, and it's fun to listen for the styles of these notable musicians.
The Akulas - Rustines
I've had a hard time pinning down what to say about this record, it feels like it refracts different ways with a twist of the lens. Sometimes it feels like an organ-fueled party record, but then there's some moody, reverbed surfy tunes with a more aggressive style, but even those sometimes feel like Meek-ish euro-instro. But then there's some nasty fuzz that gives you a glint of garage. It's not that they're switching styles, it's just a shape-shifting record that can do a lot depending on how you want to hear it.
The Dead Rocks - Surf Explosao
The Dead Rocks are perhaps the most important modern surf group for Brazil. This 2014 swan song (not counting their 2016 live record) has them at a comfortable enough place to just write songs without feeling the need to make big impression. Sure, there's some that shred, but there's also quaint little house-party tracks with minimal reverb. It's a good summation of their chops and their songwriting diversity that they developed over a decade.
Los Tiki Phantoms - Mueven El Esqueleto
Los Tiki Phantoms are one of the best live acts you'll see in any genre. It's an extremely well-balanced cocktail of on-stage chemistry and movement, improved crowd interaction, crowd provocation, and loose energy. Each of their studio albums has been able to capture that party-ready spirit. This album doesn't shake up the formula, but any album from them is worth it.
Glasgow Tiki Shakers - Blue Transporter
Surf is typically loud and ballsy, but there's something to be said for the beach on a foggy day. Glasgow Tiki Shakers play a less ostentatious, more melancholy mood, with jazzy flavors to it. There are still some good stompers on this record, but that's not what sucks you in. The other fun aspect to this is that it was released simultanously with a Halloween record they made, yanging this one's yin.
Surf Zombies - Return of the Skeleton
Surf Zombies are the best surf band in the state of Iowa. Sure, I can't think of any others, but that doesn't mean that they're not great. Return of the Skeleton isn't as spooky as its wonderful album art would suggest, in fact a lot of these songs are quite lighthearted and pretty. This is a veteran band turning out an album that feels like they know what they're doing, and it all falls easily into the right place.
Monsters of Surf
This compilation compiled by Daikaiju was the unmistakable best source for aggresive surf music at the time. Disappointingly, maybe half of these bands are no longer active today, but it's a great introduction for people that just got high off their first Daikaiju show. Also, it's fun to match band names with their depictions in the cover art.
Beach Combers - Beach Attack
From what I gather, Beach Combers are all about playing live, often opting for street/beach shows -- no venue, no problem. So how does this studio recording sound SO GOOD? Each instrument is so distinct and audible, the space of the sound so large, all while capturing their tenacious energy. Their sound is traditional enough, not really pushing any boundaries, and yet everything sounds so fresh.
Baja Bug - The Surf Will Rise Again
Baja Bug very quietly released this in December of 2019, vinyl only direct from the band. It slipped past me, and it slipped past Double Crown, who are now selling the CD version. Despite being extremely under the radar and still finding an audience, this is half-way up the list and I think with time it would have been higher. Their traditional but mean tone is perfect. They hit with power, loom with menace, and shine like a blade.
The Coffin Daggers - Aggravatin' Rhythms
Wonderfully shouty guitars and crashing, momentous (and I guess Aggravatin') rhythms in full effect here. As the cover would suggest, this is leaning a little more into kitsch than previous efforts, but the their signature ferocity is in no short supply.
Monokini - Systopia
While not a tiki record (for the most part), Systopia often lives in a similar head-space. It prefers to lurk rather than shout, to relax rather than party, but when you pay attention to it you'll find it's very preoccupied. The vibes and keys are often just as crucial as guitar, and every track is something fresh. It's a special record that grows with each listen.
The Mermen - A Murmurous Sirenic Delirium
Did the you know The Mermen came back? They've released three records in the past 3 years, and they're still slinging psychedelic, semi-surf tunes that sound made for sun and shore that will feel right at home for fans of their 90's material. A Murmurous Sirenic Delirium is the rightful choice for this list, still progressive but also more energetic than the more meditative We Could See It In the Distance.
Moms I'd Like to Surf - Beach Control to Major Knob
There's an easy way to sound different. Get an odd lineup of pedals, point the knobs wherever, go. MILS do it the hard way. This is a record full of wild, challenging song structures played by surf musicians on surf instruments. No frills but that which they write. Each of these songs sound distinctly new and fresh not just from each other but from about anything else, and they're still energetic and fun.
Amphibian Man - Waves
Amphibian Man was the surf group of 2016. There were a striking amount of great records that year, and some will be ranked higher, but only one group/artist released 6 records (48 tracks) that would each deserve a spot somewhere on this list -- each of them sylistically distinct no less. I chose Waves as the emblematic record of this stretch, but by all means stretch out.
The A-Men - Let's Fly to Mars
This supercollaboration between members of The Aqualads, The Madeira, Messer Chups and El Ray is about as good as that sounds. It feels truly inspired, full busting colors and ideas. Perhaps the distance between members has an upside: when everything is being assembled piece by piece, a lot of attention is paid to craft of the sound. This feels like a rare treat.
El Supernaut - Gorilla Fighter
Bombastic modern instrumentals that marry impressive guitarwork with inventive sounds. It's an album that can't stand still, pulling from influences all over the musical map, trying new things on each track -- and succeeding. The words "Gorilla Fighter" strike up a pretty powerful feeling, and this album matches that.
Swami John Reis and the Blind Shake - Modern Surf Classics
Like a gift dropped out of the sky. A lot of surf fans have a punk background, and a lot of those people have a lot of love for that thick and heavy guitar sound heard in Hot Snakes and Rocket from the Crypt (and The Blind Shake are quite a welcome ingredient too!). What was surprising is that this wasn't simply instrumental Hot Snakes, nor was it a retreat of surf standards with punk guitar. This was a very deliberate, creative record looking for something new in-between. As a fan of both surf and John Reis, I think it nailed it.
"No question, the album of 2015" -Uwe Kerzinger
King Ghidora - The Secret Origin of an Unknown Planetary Destroyer
King Ghidora aren't the only Astro-Clone in this countdown, but this is the one with the most fiery mix of rocket fuel, perfectly dialing in that Estrus records era sound that changed the landscape of this music, perhaps with a little more modern recording technology applied. The finale "Rockets @ Dawn" shakes up into such a fit that you want to just start the record all over again.
Los Coronas - Adios Sancho
Surf music was pioneered by teenagers (and session musicians channeling teenagers) that moved on to the next big thing within the next 5 years. In a way, it's a genre that is only seen in its infancy. Los Coronas had a 20 year spotless history of surf music when Adios Sancho was released, and it sounds like a mature surf record -- they know the rules and know when to break them, they've looked around and found what helps them. Rather than the hard-driving momentum surf is known for, this band knows exactly what velocity is necessary to let the song truly speak. It's a beautiful record that feels like a celebration.