Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The Insect Surfers - Death Valley Coastlinedotdotdotdot
artworkThe long awaited fourth album from the Insect Surfers has finally seen the light of day on CD. The Insects started life in the Washington DC area over a decade ago, where they issued a pair of great records of new wave surf-pop, which still find their way onto my playlists from time to time, especially "Dorsal Fin", "Up Periscope," and "VOA." After a move to LA in the late 80's, Dave Arnson formed a new version of the band, with way fewer vocals and a more West Coast / Southwest sound, eventually ending up with no vocals at all. The Insect sound today is not classic surf by any stretch of the imagination, with Dan Sullivan's Flying V and the smooth distorto guitars only slightly reverbed and their ever present Southwest mystique. Their now impossible to find (except on vinyl) third album Reverb Sun is a stellar disc, and their third of the Summer Surf CD is equally grand. They have issued a 10 inch vinyl mini-album with a few of these tracks called East-West which also included two tracks from Summer Surf not on the CD. The rest of this album has been circulating on cassette since then, until now, when it is finally out on CD. The lineup is the classic dueling twin leads of Dave Arnson and Dan Sullivan, Dan Vallenti on bass (now with the Boardwalkers) and Jeff Utterback on drums, now in the Tiki Tones. "Mig Alley," "Razorback," and "Re-Entry" sport Mike O'Neill on bass, and Steve Birdowski (ex-Jon and the Nightriders) on drums.
Picks: Tiger Shark, Razorback, Psychotronic, Third Stone, Diamondback, Walking Distance, Bengazi, Stingray, Ocean Maid, Re-Entry, Volcano Juice, Huntington Beer Dance, 77 Gaza Strip, Mig Alley

Track by Track Review

Tiger Shark dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

"Tiger Shark" opens the album with finite feedback, which evolves into a heavy growling riff with a very cool chunky melody over the top. This is one of those highly infectious Insect Surfer songs that can be identified as theirs without ever having heard it before. A fine track.

Razorback dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

Pick slides slam into a melodic bluesy progression in "Razorback," resulting in a desert mystique that projects images of cacti and mysterious moving rocks around which razorbacks search for chow.

Psychotronic dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a Mike Maxfield tune, not like "Cruel Sea," but more like a country backtrack. It's a riff a,d a bunch of country twang, and a rolling down the highway good time pleaser. Dedicated to B-movies everywhere, "Psychotronic" features the signature Insect dual leads over fine chunky rhythms. The trashiness of the black and whites is self-evident in this fine track.

Third Stone dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

"Third Stone" is an Insect's eye view of Jimi Hendrix's real message to the world, that the worst fate of man was the passing of surf music, that, for your sins, "may you never hear surf music again." Inspired by, but surely apart from Jimi's tune, this is a totally original and Roswellian epic, with dueling leads and great tension.

Diamondback dotdotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

A rattlesnake shakes it's moneymaker as you roll down the Arizona highway with a picture-perfect sunset looming in your future. That's what you see when you listen to "Diamond Back," with it's rolling rhythms, dual leads, and that snake rattle. This is the third best track on this CD, a 5 star tune!

Walking Distance dotdotdot
Brit Punk Surf (Instrumental)

The lone cover here is the final remnant of founding influence on the original DC version of the Insects. It's a perfectly in-place arrangement of the Buzzcocks' "Walking Distance."

Bengazi dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

The other major influence in the Insects music, after recognizing the Southwest, Surf, and the Buzzcocks, is Middle Eastern melodies and structures. "Bengazi" oozes this sound woven seamlessly into the Insect web.

Stingray dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

"Stingray" features those wonderful dueling Insect leads over a chunky bottom end. It hollers fun and melody.

Ocean Maid dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

"Ocean Maid" sports a very happy melody, which conjures Dave's seemingly boundless energy. Dave is unable to stand still while performing, and he moves more vertically as horizontally. The man is driven, and infectious to watch. "Ocean Maid" should be in a commercial for some sporty imported car. It has a definite open road feel.

Re-Entry dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

A slight detour from the open road of the West is had via "Re-Entry," with it's plinky dual leads, chunka-chunka rhythms, drones, and a bluesy feel.

Volcano Juice dotdotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

King Fuzz himself (Davie Allan) lends his bike-o-phonic assault to "Volcano Juice," a towering number with a rolling bass line under a Bo Diddley tom tom cadence and a relentless building series of crescendos. This is the second best tune on the CD, an irrepressible monster! Very tribal and primitive!

Huntington Beer Dance dotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

Down Huntington Beach way, there's a tribal line dance ritual thing the surfers do in the taverns called the Huntington Beer Dance. They bounce and slam with beer hoisted overhead, slopping the place up and splashing all within a ten foot radius. The song conveys the event with it's stomp ethic and beer spilling glissandoes.

77 Gaza Strip dotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

"77 Gaza Strip" features exotic rhythms and dueling leads. While it's name conjures expectations of the late fifties Warner Brothers Television detective series 77 Sunset Strip, which starred Efram Zimbalist Jr., and cult idol Ed "Kookie" Byrnes, there the similarity ends. This is a fine Middle Eastern epic surf slam.

Mig Alley dotdotdotdotdot
Southwest Desert Surf (Instrumental)

"Mig Alley" is an epic number named after the notorious battle ground of the Korean War. It pounds, it rolls, it has an exotic feel, and a unique and unforgettable melody line. This is THEE BEST INSECT SONG EVER (he says objectively).