Swami John Reis & the Blind Shake / John Reis / The Blind Shake

Modern Surf Classics

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Just as Rocket from the Crypt demonstrated that first-era rock & roll and classic R&B didn't sound kitschy if they were attacked with the right amount of respectful force, RFTC founder and guitarist John Reis is out to prove that surf music can be bigger, louder, cooler, and more powerful than most folks imagine in this collaboration with Minnesota garage punk trio the Blind Shake. Modern Surf Classics is a fair enough title for this, given that Reis doesn't do that much to upend the conventions of vintage instrumental surf (despite what the Beach Boys may have led you to believe, surf purists will always insist that it was an instrumental medium, and surf tunes with vocals were usually the province of hodads). This is a set of guitar-based instrumentals in the classic surf style, which means an aggressive application of reverb, plenty of percussive guitar picking, and occasional bursts of saxophone while the rhythm section keeps a steady, simple, but muscular pulse behind them. Reis plays with a lot more ferocity than Dick Dale on Modern Surf Classics, but the essential rudiments of this music are very much the same, and Reis tackles these songs with a minimalist fervor and a sincere appreciation for just how gnarly a cranked-up guitar run through a good reverb tank can sound. And the Blind Shake turned out to be an inspired choice to back up Reis on these sessions; guitarists Jim and Mike Blaha and drummer Dave Roper clearly have an affinity for classic surf, and like Reis they approach this with plenty of strength and tenacity, as well as an equally important sense of when to lay back and when to hit fifth gear. Modern Surf Classics plays less like an effort to move surf music forward than as a fan's homage to what was great about its past, but Reis and the Blind Shake don't just do it justice, they make it as fun and exciting as it must have sounded to kids stomping to the Pyramids or the Astronauts back in the day, and on that level this album is a roaring success.

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