Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Aquamarines - Off the Radar

This was a difficult review, I think the hardest I've done.  I spent a lot of time with this music, (weeks), because there is so much here.  It's obvious that a huge amount of work went into this beautiful album.  It's startling how diverse the influences are, yet somehow it blends seamlessly--no part seems foreign.  It's seventeen songs and an hour and nine minutes of fun.  For fans of surf or spaghetti it's a must buy and a seminal album, but I would recommend it to anyone.  If you're just starting to get into this music, this is a great place to start and would be the equivalent of getting a graduate degree in surfology.  (I made that word up, so it must be a real word.)  To cut to the chase, you should buy this, and can get it at http://www.theaquamarines.com, on itunes, or at Amazon.   The Aquamarines, (in uniform!), are Lt. Colonel Ace Russell - Guitar, Special Ops, Captain Rick Escobar - Guitar, Logistics, MSgt. Farhan "Mr. Chicken" Mohamed - Keyboards, Percussion & Demolitions, Gunnery Seargent "Big Wave" Dave Becker - Bass, Artilliary

Fair Game
This short first track starts off with drums, then is joined by shimmers of wah-wah flavored guitar chords, then we're into the lead guitar theme.  Nice introduction to this album.  It's obvious that they understand this music, avoiding pat cliche and jamming on the real thing.  About 1:16 the lead guitar takes off for a bit.  It made me grin, then it made me get up and start dancing!  Thank goodness it's short!  I'm not in shape for jumping up and down anymore!
Sounds like a sound track to a Japanese spaghetti western.  Wish I knew what the words are.  The female vocalist matches the instrumentation perfectly, spiritually, happily.
Te Aa (Aerois)
This song begins with the sound of rain, building into storm, then into sounds of animals.  A percussive sound almost like bongos comes in to introduce us to a tribal bass vocal rhythm that carries it forward into the instrumental introduction.  At 1:50 the female vocal starts a section of alternation between two females vocalists in French.  Reminiscent of French film music from the mid-to-late 60s and early 70s, when surf and spaghetti was giving film directors all over the world permission to make music an integral part of the film.
Aoino/ Midorino
Uses a Japanese stringed instrument to introduce the song, then goes into a fast Fender'y (is that a word?), bendy (I know that's a word, shut up spell checker), theme that was still very Japanese. As it slid back and forth between the styles I was surprised to see how very similar they really were.  It makes me wonder about early Japanese influences on surf music (probably via Hawaii).
This Latin piece starts off with percussion, then bass (great bass!) then the other instruments come in-even horns!  It made me feel like I could dance surf cha-cha, but sadly I have no idea how.
Green Room
This starts off with a funny conversation between the musicians about percussion. Makes us feel a bit of the insiders.  Then a dramatic french sounding accordian leads us into the song.  Then the rhythm comes in along with a guitar theme that alternates between a low dramatic theme and a higher mandolin like theme.  The feel is happy, progressive, inexorable success.  A violin weaves in a bit later and turns happy to joyous.
Fab Life
This is so funny.  This lounge song is a dialogue between an almost pretentious self-celebrating man and an initially doubtful French woman. Imagine Sammy Davis Jr. as the guy.  As it goes on the woman becomes convinced that she must join the fab life, and if so the guy is the fabbest of them all.  The horns are celebratory, there's a wonderful jazz flute, and the vocals are great.  Kudos for capturing exactly this mood.
Spy Trap
Starts with a drum solo leading into a fanfare of distorted layered guitars, but when the bass kicks in we're really cooking.  This is boogy woogy meets surf, and is one of my faves on this album.
Malibu '62-'67
This has a nice repeated theme that let's you enjoy it with out too much work.  The bass and drums really drive it, and you get all comfortable, then a few accidentals slip in, then some strange vocals, and additional instruments change and suddenly you're deep into psychadelic acid music.  This song really captures that moment in time when acid was influencing everyone from the Beatles to the Beach Boys.  I think it's my favorite because of the surprise and because it's perfect in what it does.  It captures the age, the evolution, '62-'67.
Inside Neptune
This sounds like a spy song!  Starts with driving drums into guitars, and then the guitar moves into a theme that makes me think of Goldfinger.  The bass is standout, the organ (Hammond B-3?) is wonderful, and the whammy guitar is perfection.
Squid Chilli
The beginning of this is dramatic, powerful, strings, theremin, building up suspense and drama, like a classical introduction, then just a moment of strings and in comes the rythym section and organ and suddenly I'm convinced it's the sound track for a transitional section sans dialogue in a hip movie-or is it!  NO!  At 1:58, just under half way through, in comes a 30 second narrative reminiscent of Pink Floyd.  It changes the whole mood, but just 30 seconds, and  then there's a festive section, then back to the surf music theremin theme from the beginning.  I could really see this being music for a section of movie, changing seemlessly to match the mood, the import, of each section of movie.
This song, more than any other is driven by bass and drums.  It's introduced by drums and bass and features them extensively.  The rhythm guitar is good as well, but the drums and bass are standout.  If, like me, you love the rhythm section and wish that they had more chances to stand out, this will be one of your favorites.
Beautiful Arabic song with a wonderful female vocal.  You should listen to this with headphones on for the atmospheric effects.  It's surprising how the guitar manages so sound like surf arabic.  I wished for the words to this.  The female vocalist sings in English, but I was only able to understand parts of it here and there.  She is a real standout.
This starts off like an easy electronic/pop/surf tune.  You can dance to it.  Like much of the music on here, it gains complexity and excitement, but it always keeps that sense of innocent joyous dancing fun.
Rasta music meets surfer twang!  HUGE reverb on the vocal.  Stoney, happy, and perfect.  Made me want to roll up a spliff.  Oddly the musical theme reminded me of something off of Eleni Mandell's latest solo album.  You can imagine how long THAT bugged me.  I listened to it over and over again until I could figure out why the theme was so familiar.
A Surfer's Life
A sparse texture of guitar bass and drums that is quite moving.  In this case, less is more.  The great Fender twang shimmering along.
An Ordeal Involving Five Strangers
Sounds like a cha-cha at first.  Strong bass.  This is the only song that didn't make a strong impression on me, insisting on remaining background music.

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