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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets


I caught up with the latest album by Los Straitjackets, the best surf-rock band that wears Mexican wrestling masks. Actually, they're probably the best instrumental rock band currently in operation, and the surf sounds and Mexican wrestling touches are just gravy.

I discovered Los Straitjackets purely by accident. On my one and only visit to Maxwell's in Hoboken, they were the opening act, and when I watched this group in matching burgundy turtlenecks, gold medallions, and masks (the masks were of individual designs), I was intrigued, and when they broke into exquisite surf-rock, I was hooked. I bought their CD right then and there, and have followed them ever since.

The band is best when they perform instrumentals. A couple of their albums have featured vocalists, and it just doesn't have the same oomph. Fortunately their latest, dubbed The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets, is pure surf instrumental. Each song is a blast, like the theme song of a movie I want to see.

There are basically two types of songs--the slash and burn, hard rocking number, such as "Cal-Speed" or "The Wild Mouse," or the cleaner, more melodic songs with the guitar that sounds like plinking water, such as "Challenger '64," or "Catalina." There are other influences as well that are common in this genre of music, such as the spy movie theme reflected in "Minority Report," the car-hop sound, evidenced with the fuzz bass of "Blowout," and the bluesy jazz sound of "Tubby," with a heavy saxophone.

The best tracks defy categorization. "Fortune Cookie" is a melange of styles that provides a dense pleasure, and "Teen Beast" is a terrific rock and roll song, with a pounding drum rhythm that is strongly reminiscent of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." The drummer, Jason Smay, is new and makes an instant imprint.

The music is fun, and so is the packaging. The inside of the CD jacket is a comic book which features the band members as superheroes. They have alternate identities, such as Smay being "Teen Beat" and long-time guitarist Danny Amis as "Daddy O-Grande." Only Eddie Angel keeps his own name, which I guess you would do if you had a name as cool as Eddie Angel.

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