If Dick Dale can return from terminal obscurity (thank you, Quentin Tarantino), then why not a comeback for instrumental rock in general? After all, the music made during the Fifties and Sixties by artists like Dale, Duane Eddy and Link Wray (represented by a fine new compendium, Guitar Preacher: The Polydor Years) sounds far less dated than the majority of pop that made bobby-soxers shudder prior to the British Invasion; mysterious, echoey guitars, propulsive drumming and simple, hooky structures render it simultaneously timeless and otherworldly. This trio of releases aims to approximate such effects, with varying results--and while the acts don't radically rethink the style, as did the sadly neglected Raybeats in the early Eighties, neither do they wipe out. The trippiest of the batch is Los Straitjackets, a quartet of pro-wrestling-mask-wearing lugs led by former Raybeat Danny Amis. Titles such as "Fury," "Caveman" and "Gatecrusher" give you an indication of the approach; the disc is a re-creation of instrumental rock's dark side, replete with rampaging riffs, cymbal smashes and the brand of intoxicating repetition that makes this stuff so damnably seductive. At times, Surfmania is equally entertaining--the title track, particularly, is full of verve--but it's also more benign. The influences are right, as the cuts "Martin Denny, Esq." and "A Raymond Chandler Evening" imply, but the players (Miles Corbin, Michael Lindner, Hank Maninger and Donn Spindt) sometimes suffer from a case of the cutes, thereby causing several of the tracks to seem less genuinely eerie than they do quaint and nostalgic. Friends of Dean Martinez, featuring contributors from Giant Sand and Naked Prey, often drips with satirical intent, too, but on Smile, it hardly matters. The players manage to combine a love for lounge sounds, Ennio Morricone and jazz standards (Erroll Garner's "Misty" and Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty" are covered) into a genuinely warm and cheerful updating of the birth of the uncool. Words would have only gotten in the way.
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