(This is very long, and I apologize, but I really love this CD and I had a lot to say about it! I hope some of you can get through the whole thing and find it worthwhile. For those with ADD just read the first and last paragraphs!)
Ive not been shy about my love of Los Twang! Marvels over the last few years. As far as Im concerned, theyre at the very top of the international surf music heap. A simply amazing band. Ive gotten to know their lead guitarist Alex Faide over email over the last few years, even becoming good friends and establishing a bit of a mutual appreciation society. It just happened that our new CDs came out around the same time, so we happily swapped. Ive had Jungle of Twang for over a month now, and must have listened to it multiple dozens of times in that time. I think its the best thing theyve done so far, and a big step forward for the band. And ultimately I think itll be one of the if not THEE best surf music releases of the year, no question about it.
The album is their fourth, though only their second full-length of all new material (their first release was a 5-song EP and their previous release was a compilation with five or six new songs). They recorded it in the same studio in Spain where I think the Longboards record. This studio is apparently renowned for all their vintage gear and vintage recording expertise. The sound on this CD shows it its extremely warm without the squeaky-clean hi-fi quality of a lot of modern recordings, but without being lo-fi or dirty in any way. It sounds very organic, for lack of a better word. LTM also changed labels and this is their first release with the German label Kamikaze, which has put out a lot of surf music over the last decade-plus. Los Twang Marvels, BTW, consist of Alex, his wife Marisol on rhythm guitar and vocals, Bisfer on drums, who has been with the band for the last couple of years, first playing on the extra tracks on their previous compilation, and finally the new bass player Christian de Santis. Bisfer is a really excellent drummer, always extremely tasteful and classy and his playing is ALWAYS swinging which is the way it should be! But the real star of the show is Alex. He is definitely one of the top guitarists playing surf music today. Hes got a touch like few others in the surf world, and tons of technique just waiting in the wings for when its called for. Alex actually studied with Robert Fripp in his Guitar Craft workshop. But his playing sounds nothing like fusion or anything but pure surf, with a bit of exotica and rockabilly thrown in. (He also plays in a great rockabilly band in Germany, called Ray Allen and the Blue Rhythms, playing some amazing stuff!)
What matters of course is the songs, and theyre astonishing. The CD opens with Sea of Glory, a song with a melody that I think Roy Orbison would have been proud of. Like many of his songs, the mysterious and dramatic melody just builds and builds without any of the parts repeating, and without any obvious chorus or bridge. I remember Rip Thrillby once saying that his goal was to one day write an instrumental song with a structure like Orbisons. Sadly, he never got that chance, but Alex did it for him. I think Ill always think of Rip when I hear this song as a result. It really is glorious, with increasing complexity as it nears the end and some fantastic off-the-cuff improvisations at the end. It took a while for this song to grow on me, as its pretty complex, but it gradually revealed itself like a blushing bride with each subsequent listen. Simply awesome.
Tunisian Moon features a fast beat and a slightly exotic melody, energetic yet still sensual. Los Marvels have this wonderful quality of never sounding like theyre pounding the listener. Even their energetic songs have a delicate, almost feminine, quality which is rare in surf. I dont know if that is because of Marisol or because Alex is in touch with his feminine side, but its one thing I really enjoy about them.
Surf Dilemma is probably the most standard surf song on the album, being an energetic piece with a double-picked melody. But Los Marvels being Los Marvels still make it special through their sheer melodic inventiveness and special touch. Its a beautiful and very immediate track, and in a better world it would be a big chart hit.
Nose Walkin is a completely unique song, with great amount of texture, something rare in surf music (Alex is a big fan of the Cocteau Twins and to me this song exhibits some of their sonic experimentation, while staying completely within the confines of surf). The guitar on the left side of the stereo spectrum is very dry, playing Link Wray-ish, bluesy parts, while the lead guitar on the right side is heavily wet with tons of reverb, tremolo and echo, and the two parts interact in a very cool and imaginative way.
Sad on Mondays is an atmospheric and moody song, with a deeply melancholy and evocative melody. If youve heard Los Marvels full-length debut then you know they have a special way with ballads (Im thinking of Eyesore and Back Home in particular), and they do not disappoint here. A gorgeous track.
Return of the Space Cossack is probably my favorite track on the CD yes, because of the title. Actually, its just a kick-ass song! Fast, and sporting some rapid guitar playing and really imaginative parts, Alex did me a great honor by choosing that title, and Im very grateful. Theres no way I could have ever written this song or probably even just played the super-fast and tricky parts, but Im happy to bask in the songs reflected glory!
Adventures of the Green Camaro is a Los-Straitjackets-sounding song, with a deep dance groove and a simple but appealing melody and some nice interplay between the two guitars.
Mr. Twister is also a Los-Straitjackets-sounding instro tune with a fifties-like melody that Im sure gets people dancing within seconds. Its the simplest and most straight-forward song on the CD.
There are also five cover songs on the CD (out of 15 total). The first one is Kaha Huna, originally written and recorded by the sixties studio guitarist Gene Moles (who I think had some sort of a connection to the Ventures, though I cant remember what now). The original track can be found on the Beach Party: Garpax SurfnDrag comp on Ace Records, and its pure corn, real sixties game-show music only redeemed by some very imaginative playing by Moles. Los Marvels transform it into a true surf track, albeit a very happy one, and Alex replicates (though in his own way) much of Moles original guitar gymnastics while making the song more energetic and interesting.
The second cover is Cumana. I dont know the original, but it sounds like a latino standard done up in the Astronauts 3-guitar style, with a very heavily reverbed guitar track on the left, a drier rhythm on the right and a moderately wet lead in the middle. The Astronauts go Cuban! Its got a gorgeous melody, and Alex simply nails it in every respect
Then there is BaliHai, a Rodgers-Hammerstein standard done up surf-style in the sixties by a little known band the Irredescents and compiled on the classic LP Diggin Out. But Los Marvels go much further with it, effectively conjuring up an image of a jungle of twang! full of writhing natives in the middle of a lethal ritual. The band gives it a slower, more sensual and much deeper groove than the Irredescents version, while Alex makes the melody a lot more sinister by using some weird extended chords (that schooling paying off!) that are not in the original. And then there is the whole middle-part which is completely original, yet sounding soooo right, with extended descending guitar figures giving the image of sinking into the depths of the jungle, never to be seen again. The song is pure surf-exotica heaven. Fifty Foot Combo also covered this, in my opinion also improving on the original, but Los Marvels version blows both of those away. Definitely goose-bumps time.
Siboney is an old Ernesto Lecuona standard, performed in the surf/instro world in the sixties by Johnny Fortune and in the nineties by the Vara-tones and the Hellbenders as well as by the phenomenal Finnish euro-instro band the Mustangs. LTM play it a bit subdued, not fully emphasizing the latino rhythms, but giving it great fragility and softness. Its such an incredibly beautiful melody that it doesnt take much to make it come alive, and Los Marvels definitely do the song justice.
Danza Del Sable is a straightforward copy of the version of the old Katchaturian classical piece done by the amazing sixties Belgian instro band the Jokers. Ive always loved this song, and for my money the Jokers have done the ultimate version that will never be bettered by anyone. Los Marvels very wisely didnt try to better it but incredibly enough they actually match the quality of the Jokers version! Really astonishing. Its not easy to copy a classic like that note-for-note and make it sound just as good. A great, great job with this, and a fantastic way to end the album.
There are also two vocals on the album, a first for LTM, both originals and both simply fun. Somos Los Twang Marvels features Marisol on vocals and goes for a bit of the Trashmen sound with some prominent papa oom mow mows by the backing vocals. Nothing earth-shattering unless played live and having the entire crowd spontaneously rise to their feet and start shimmying away, in which case the Earth may actually shatter! Esclavos De Amor is sung by Alex and is a hard garage grinder. Again, for me not the highlight of the album, but extremely well done and people that like that sort of a thing will like this one.
There you go, an album chock full of real gems, and one that can easily stand up to repeated listenings, being so incredibly diverse and deep. As I said, Ive been listening to it for a month and a half straight on my iPod, and Im still hearing new things every time I listen again. I cant recommend this album highly enough! (Go check out three songs from the album on their myspace site: http://www.myspace.com/lostwangmarvels) 2008 continues to shape up to be a truly amazing year for surf music, and Los Twang! Marvels have made a major contribution with Jungle of Twang, keeping our favorite genre alive and vibrant and relevant.
(It seems that Kamikaze doesnt have very good distribution in the USA as I dont think the CD is available anywhere here yet, but you can buy it direct from Germany here:
Dont wait just do it! You wont regret it!)