skew * eight * tunes * No more words
No more words
These indie-label instrumentalists are releasing records that fall somewhere between Beethoven and the beach
by Jesse Garon

The "surf guitar"/"twang" sound keeps cropping up in the damnedest places. For example, Los Straitjackets is a four-man outfit (two guitarists, one bass player, and a drummer) that hails from... Nashville, Tennessee. That's right, the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Upstart Records has released their debut record, The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets, with more than a dozen songs that strongly evoke the music of Dick Dale and Link Wray. Sure, it's just plain fun to have four guys put on Mexican wrestling masks and call themselves a band. But if they couldn't actually play, nobody would care. Luckily, these guys can play, from the slower, reflective stuff like "University Blvd." to fast-paced tunes like "Gatecrusher," and even material with a slightly goofy edge like "Itchy Chicken." The fact that these guys are based in Nashville makes sense when you think about it -- the city draws some of the top studio musicians in the world, no matter what styles influenced them. With any luck, these guys will be able to keep this project going.

Their labelmates Laika and the Cosmonauts hail from Scandinavia, and as their name indicates, their sound has more in common with the late '50s "Telstar" instrumental style than with the surfing guitar of the '60s. Their second American release, The Amazing Colossal Band, features a mixture of original tunes and classic covers, both marked by the combination of solid guitar and ethereal organ work. While none of the cuts competes with the medley of the themes from "Psycho" and "Vertigo" from their first album (after all, what CAN you do to top a medley like that?), the band does throw in great versions of the themes from "The Ipcress File," "The Avengers," and "Get Carter." The Cosmonauts' own compositions, like "Global Village" and "The Man from H.U.A.C.," are also a load of fun. This is the perfect album for riding around in your convertible with the top down along the shore.

Over at Estrus Records, the Galaxy Trio has put out an 8-song CD that stays close to the surfing straight-and-narrow, with titles including "Surficide" and "Surf N' Destroy." For a change of pace, though, they do throw in a rad version of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" for electric guitar. The liner notes feature Criswell, supporting actor in several Ed Wood films, speaking "from beyond the grave" as "musical director," urging the listener to "[l]eave the nerve-jangling life of the post-nuclear age and come with us... In the Harem!" That and the cover shot of the three band members in turbans, surrounded by dancing girls, is a pretty good indication of the feel of this record. It's a fun disc, though it ends way too soon.

So far, the revival of instrumental rock seems primarily relegated to the indie labels -- and to some of the smaller indies at that. Consequently, these three albums may not be easy to track down. Unless you have a really good record store in your area, you'll probably have to special-order this stuff. If you're interested in instrumentals, though, these three records are worth the hunt.

Upstart Records, PO Box 44-1418, W. Somerville, MA 02144
Estrus Records, PO Box 2125, Bellingham WA 98227

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