Surf Rock Isn’t Dead

by Tom Arndt

There’s a long-standing tradition in the surf film community to film surfers and put it to music, but this is usually done in two parts. The surfers surf and the rockers rock, never meeting and only being brought together by someone after both are done. Self-Discovery for Social Survival has a new take on the timeless idea of surf film: bring the musicians with the surfers, and have them travel the seas together, with the goal of creating a surf film. The music brings modern artists onto the surf rock scene, and reinvigorates an obscure genre.

Allah-Las is a Los Angeles-based folk rock band who agreed to join the 2019 project. Contributing five songs, all are named after jams and jellies. “Raspberry Jam” is one long guitar riff, perfectly in sync with a classic surf rock bass, instantly recognizable in style, yet brand new in execution. “Boysenberry Jam” is one of the most memorable tracks from the whole album, consistent in musical theme with the other jams, yet made unique by synthesizers playing the harmony to the lead riff, functioning as a repeating chorus section.

Allah-Las isn’t the only group to contribute, as Jefre Cantu-Ledesma of San Francisco band Tanrentel contributes slower pieces, with an even more laid-back feel. The pulsing dynamics of “Swell” absolutely capture the motion of the waves, an idea that may not have been brought to fruition if he hadn’t been on the boat, living with the water.

Peaking Lights, a husband and wife duo, also share their music, with “Mirror in the Sky,” a song made unique by its disco-esque beat and percussion, yet maintaining continuity with the rest of the artists through melodic style and beachy sound.

Connan Mockasin and Andrew VanWyngarden, musical friends from the production of MGMT’s 2018 album Little Dark Age, manage to bring experimental new sounds like no other artists could. Each of their four contributions is unique, with new-age synthesizers and a distinct, arpeggiating guitar, all being accentuated by heavy reverb. The pair was tasked with capturing the energy of the surfers while in Iceland. This is evident best in “Bad Boys,” which uses the distinct styles of both composers, and the album as a whole, to create sounds that take the listener to the icy beaches and mountains of Iceland. Yet, the title theme, “Var Har Du Varit,” by Durgen, remains the most influential piece. It blends the classical rumbling guitar with piano, over snazzy jazzy drums, functioning as the magnum opus of the album and film.

It’s rare to see so many talented artists from around the world come together for a single project, much less one to the quality of Self-Discovery for Social Survival.