The Mermen

The Amazing California Health and Happiness Road Show
(Mesa/BlueMoon)

Merman Jim Thomas could probably make a good living simply reproducing the surf sounds of old, or revving them up with a touch of punk rock and peddling them to a new audience. But he's more ambitious than that, and on Road Show, his group's latest, he proves it by inventing a new genre: ambient surf.

Despite his reputation as a feedback connoisseur par excellence, Thomas hasn't trucked exclusively in the Ventures cum Sonic Youth bombast; 1995's A Glorious Lethal Euphoria, for example, juxtaposed blood-on-the-strings frenzies with a relatively faithful rendition of "Brahms 3rd Movement 3rd Symphony." But music that had previously been used as a side dish becomes the main course here. "Unto the Resplendent," which opens the CD with Thomas's echoey tones trembling over an underwater beat, bleeds into "White Trash Raga," an unhurried journey into Indian exoticism, and the slowest imaginable "Merry Go Round." Moreover, "Miki's Lush Beehive," the first tune to spotlight surf's trademark rumbling bass line (handled, as usual, by Allen Whitman), is practically sedate by these guys' standards. No ho-dads were injured in the making of this song.

Thomas hasn't entirely lost his taste for mayhem: "Little Stinky Kitty" is just under four minutes of shredding capable of shaving a life or two off any feline. But the most interesting numbers are those like "Emmylou Rides Clarence West and Then South," "To Be Naked and French Is Always Hard" and "Heart Beatitude," which demonstrate in a dreamy, cranium-expanding way just how flexible the rudiments of this seemingly simplistic style can be.

The Amazing California Health and Happiness Road Show may disappoint fans hungry for monster riffs and amps in flames, but that's okay. Sometimes a quiet storm can be just as stirring as a perfect one.

 
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