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Surf Music's Reventlos, Torquays Ride Diverse Waves


Surf music--like ska, Cajun or any other specialized genre--runs the risk of boredom through repetition unless it's in the hands of genuinely imaginative players.

Orange County is part of the Tigris and Euphrates of the surf-music world--surf-guitar pioneer Dick Dale and the Chantays ("Wipeout") developed in O.C.--which means there's a venerable history in surf music here that continues today.

Two latter-day O.C. surf bands, the Reventlos and the Torquays, have new albums that show how the genre's torch-bearers are keeping the flame alive in 2000 with the two basic approaches to a time-tested style of music. The Torquays take the traditionalist path, while the Reventlos use surf rock as a springboard for all manner of musical excursions.


"Songs of the Golden West"

Ranell Records

This Costa Mesa quartet tackles surf music the way Los Lobos would. That means loads of imagination, a thorough understanding of the fundamentals but wonderfully little regard for any rules about what does or doesn't constitute surf music.

Listeners figure out right away this isn't going to be any straight stroll down the beach upon hearing the circus-calliope instrumental hook from Freddy Cannon's 1962 hit "Palisades Park" at the outset of "Fun Zone," which kicks off the band's second album.

"Fun Zone" is what the Reventlos create here, careening with wild-eyed confidence from the surf-drenched opening cut through instrumentals steeped in British pop, heavy blues-infused rock, Latin pop and even hip-hop.

"Spahn Ranch Rodeo!" is the kind of surf instrumental Jimi ("You'll never hear surf music again!") Hendrix might have dreamed up, full of shifting tempos and textures and riding a wailing blues guitar tone devoid of the heavy reverb that most surf bands consider de rigueur.

"Haunted Valley" jumps along on a hip-hop rhythm beneath a scratchy vocal track meant to sound as if it's originating from a megaphone in the distance. The sonic experimentation is akin to what Los Lobos have been playing with in recent years. That leads to magnificent release when the jarring textures of "Haunted Valley" slip directly into "Stan Orlow," an irresistibly danceable pop tune that builds to a throbbing Latin-pop climax.

"Mondo Reventlo" bounces with a percolating bass line and light, skittering guitar leads on loan from Afro-pop master King Sunny Ade, then erupts with a soaring electric guitar recapitulation of the melody that shifts the sense of place from Nigeria to some wide-open Montana prairie.

The tremolo-heavy Latin funk of "Groove, Part I" is one of several nods the Reventlos make toward East L.A.'s contribution to the rock lexicon.

Only in the last two tracks--the grand-rock waltz of "Veronica" and the mini-rock symphony of "2227-A Pomona Avenue"--does it begin to feel like the Reventlos might have included too many stops on this otherwise eventful tour.

If there is a common thread through this exceedingly varied musical landscape, it is guitarist-songwriter Greg Staples' seemingly bottomless pit of melodic ideas and the band's infectious drive in putting it all across.

* The Reventlos play tonight at Sloppy Joe's Bar, 31 Fortune, Irvine Spectrum. With Lester Chambers and K.K. Martin. 9 p.m. $5. (949) 727-1484. Also Sunday at Hooters, 106 Pine St., Long Beach. 4 p.m. Free. Benefit for the Surfrider Foundation. (562) 983-1010.



"Road Trip!"


If Dick Dale is to surf music what the 30-foot waves of Waimea Bay are to surfing, the Torquays are a good day off Huntington Pier.

The quartet--which includes former Dale sideman Steve Soest--plays cleanly without ever threatening to overwhelm, and in place of the Reventlos' genre-bending style, the Torquays take a traditionalist attitude that's perfectly content to respect the generally accepted parameters of surf music.

That doesn't mean there's any less passion in the performances, but it does produce a few tunes that come off as early outlines rather than fully developed themes.

Of the 18 songs here, six are Torquay originals and a couple are surf standards, including Dick Dale's "The Wedge," which is built on a typically Dale-esque Middle Eastern minor-chord progression over which cascade the lead guitar's skipping downward runs. By adding a quasi-ska rhythm in the verse, the Torquays supply an intriguing twist.

Their version of the Bel-Airs' surf classic "Mr. Moto" is fairly straightforward, yet fittingly eerie, while "Wig-Wham" offers a minor variation on tom-tom heavy favorite, "Apache."

"Instant Bull," one of four tunes here written or co-written by Torquay drummer Duff Paulsen, purrs along on a Latin dance beat not usually used by surf bands.

Paulsen's "Pit Stop" is one of the small handful of cuts that are enjoyable enough while they're on, but lack the strong melodic hooks needed to make yet one more surf instrumental memorable.

"Johnny Cochino," written by and featuring Anaheim blues guitarist Kid Ramos, jumps out because it fuses blues and surf magnificently, and bursts with the kind of bravado you wish the Torquays would explore more on their own.

Soest's "El Baile de los Chupacabras" has a tribal drum backing, with animal-like whistles and rattles that complement the spooky baritone guitar lead. His other composition, "365 Day Weekend" is a gloriously swinging tango, ideal for a beach-side dance party.

Back in surf's early-'60s heyday, this would have been a stronger 10- or 11-song collection that would have clocked in at around 30 minutes.


(Available via phone order at (714) 538-0272 or e-mail at

Albums are rated on a scale of * (poor) to **** (excellent) with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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