Shamefaced Sparrows in the Surf

24 Oct

Who said surf rock was dead? Surf rock will never die. While the combination of spring reverb, rapid tremolo picking, and liberal use of the vibrato arm may not be a common technique mixture any longer, that doesn’t mean the skill has evaporated. The technique, which found its wings in the early 60s, has been up in the clouds waiting to gather enough strength to pour back down. The Shamefaced Sparrows are looking to trigger that cloud explosion.

Guitar-driven surf rock first became popular with Dick Dale and the Deltones. Dale was influenced by his Arabic musical roots, and he experimented with rapid picking and reverb. Soon, other artists caught on, and the style became a craze. Link Wray, Duane Eddy, The Ventures, The Tornadoes, and many other bands mastered the style and released a variety of songs based on the same formula. And just like its quick rise, it declined in popularity (like most musical fads), and was replaced by new styles of music.

Recently, though, surf music has seen a revival. Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack helped. “Bustin’ Surfboards” by the Tornadoes was among several surf tracks featured. The rhythm guitarist of the British surf act the Tornadoes was George Bellamy. Recognize the last name. George is Matthew Bellamy’s father. Matthew, of course, is the lead vocalist and guitarist of Muse, and he paid tribute to the genre that his father helped develop with the 2006 song “Knights of Cydonia.”

Enough with the boring history. Let’s get to the good stuff. The Shamefaced Sparrows fell in love with surf music as schoolboys through their shared obsession with “Pulp Fiction”  and its soundtrack. A new wave film introduced them to “Jack The Ripper” by Link Wray, and while they were previously aware of Wray’s music, they were ignorant of that particular song. It sparked a more in-depth focus on Wray’s music. Surf rock was instilled in them since they were young. As musicians, it wasn’t tough to pick a type of music to play.

The first reverbed note echoes all the great surf songs of the past. It is refreshing to hear this music. I use refreshing because, like riding waves on a cozy summer day, the music splashes you with salty notes and smooth bass. The song title is fitting. The vocals add an intriguing quality to this piece. While the music almost calls to be instrumental, the effect-saturated vocal introduces a neo-psychedelic, Elephant 6 quality.

We pick up “The Madison” next, which begins with an immediate call back to one of the most famous surf rock tracks of all time, “Misirlou” by Dick Dale. Shredding before shredding was conceptualized. Pure awesomeness. This opening section combines additional riffs with some extraneous voices spliced into the tape (nice touch). When it seems like it is about to hit a climax point at around 40 seconds, the song changes into a light-hearted White Stripes/Black Keys-like riff and vocals. A tremendous transition. Just plain cool.

The Shamefaced Sparrows label their music as Death Pop. Might I suggest a change? To me, the music sounds more like “surfadelic” or “indiesurf.” The Shamefaced Sparrows have something here. Can the music use some refinement? Yes. But that will come with time. This is not just a throwback act. They are adding modern elements into an old fad. There is no shame in that.

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One Response to “Shamefaced Sparrows in the Surf”

  1. Shock Horror October 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    The essence of cool right there. Brilliant!

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