Thursday, January 29, 2009

Surf 'n''s a grower

Derivative, by-the-number, cookie cutter music makes me crazy! If I can tell what the next note is going to be without ever having hear a song before, well, how interesting is that? I understand that in some genres, there is a form to be followed, and improvised within, like in bluegrass or 12 bar blues. I get that.

But what does it take to really stand up to repeated listening, gradually revealing more nuances and joys? Why does cotton candy pop sound great the very first time you hear it, but becomes trite and annoyingly stuck in your head really fast? What makes a tune pass by unnoticed time and time again, then suddenly gleam as brightly as gold flakes in a pan of dross? Why are some songs "growers" as Jack Black's Barry character desperately described that album they can never sell in the movie version of High Fidelity. You know what he means; it grows on you, you might not like it at first, but you will after repeated listenings, then you cannot live without it.

With such thoughts in mind, I turned to the "top 25 played" playlist on my iTunes. I don't look at this much but had a guess about what I would find there - stuff that works well in playlists; both the playlists I make for myself and those I create for friends and for special occasions, trying to juxtaposition well and make each song gleam brightly in an unfamiliar setting. Or as Rob says in High Fidelity again "The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules."

One of only a handful of tunes riding high in the top 25 with very little playlist support is Boom Pam's "Dalida," pretty much my top Balkan-tuba-surf-guitar track ever. When those crisscrossing guitar lines intersect, it's like surf vs. Turkish...AYE! When I heard them play that at the Cedar a few summers back, it was a completely blissful moment of having my head musically blown off, incredibly humid room and sweaty two-year-old on my hip notwithstanding.

So when I read somewhere a few weeks ago that they had released a new cd, I had to rush out and buy. Amazingly, the actual physical disc was available locally. Thank you, Shantel! (He runs Essay Records in Germany, who has put out both of Boom Pam's recordings here. Not to mention that he's the guy behind Bucovina Club and Disko Partizani...big BIG thanks, Mr. Hantel!)

Before I tell you all the fun things about the Boom Pam disc, Puerto Rican Nights, a little background is in order to answer the all important questions like, "Why surf in Tel Aviv? Why now? Who is this Boom Pam?"

When the self titled debut came out here a couple of years ago, it made #1 on the Spin the Globe charts. They explained it thus.
Remember that Israel is a nation of immigrants, and it's got lots of nice waterfront. As
much as anything, those two factors explain Boom Pam's pairing of duo surf guitars with tight tuba basslines. Crazy Balkan time signatures and minimalist
percussion make their self-titled album irresistable to the musically curious, whether your usual fare is rock or world music.
The All Music Guide's Ned Raggett
explained the Dick Dale connection.
As the story goes, Dick Dale helped invent surf music by borrowing from traditional Middle Eastern melodies thanks to his Lebanese dad. Boom Pam, located down the coast in Tel Aviv, help bring it all back around, showing themselves to be one of those spirited "try anything once" groups in the vein of such legends as Mano Negra and Babasónicos. But groups like Croatia's Bambi Molesters would be a closer comparison, combining their love of surf with Eastern European as well as Mediterranean styles and creating a unique new stew. The killer ace in the hole for Boom Pam is a slightly unexpected instrument -- tuba, which can get a bad rap in the States for its ungainly size and association with bad high-school marching bands. But Yuval "Tuby" Zolotov rocks on that thing, providing the hyperspeed basslines that drummer Dudu Kohav matches, on top of which guitarist/singers Uzi Feinerman and Uri Brauner Kinrot go to town. Some moments are so great that to describe them removes the charm, but hearing things like the crystalline guitar breaks on "Souvlaki #3" and the brawling tuba kick on "Dalida" is just wondrous.
[What did I just say about "Dalida?!" RIGHT!]

OK, now I know there are tuba haters out there. I understand that it's right down there with accordions, bagpipes and banjos in some people's minds. (Who are these people and what's with them?!) You have never seen (or heard) tuba playing like Tuby does. NO. Really. High high notes. LOW Low notes. Amazing melody lines. Crazy-fast runs. For those of you who are fans of a certain band from Colorado that sports a girl tuba player...people, she just splats out some low end. Tuby rules that 18 feet of metal tubing.I loved this piece in the Jerusalem Times.
"Boom Pam's Middle Eastern influences are beyond apparent, between the instrumentation, kitschy loungestyle dress and the overall feel that you could be listening to something produced in 1980s Turkey or watching something from the same era straight out of Czechoslovakia.

The group takes its name from a song it covered - "Boom Pam", a Greek hit here performed by Greek immigrant to Israel Aris San. San, in his collaboration with Berry Sakharov, became the first musician to add the electric guitar to Greek folk music.

Here's a fun review of one of their Tel Aviv shows from 2006.

Were any of you at Balkan Beat Box's first show at the Cedar in September 2007? Remember the guy with the baby blue Stratocaster jamming between the sax players, eyes closed and sweat dripping? That, my friends, was our introduction to Mr. Uri Brauner Kinrot, who handles more of the Turkish/Middle Eastern sounding guitar lines in Boom Pam. (If memory serves, he was doing that great line from "Adir Adirim"....I had a sample of that on my voice mail for several years, people.) The traditional surf sound is more covered by Uzi Feinerman with his sweet vintage hollow body. When those two sounds emerge from their Fender tube amps and intersect...well, I already said it blew my head off, didn't I?I really like what they've done on Puerto Rican Nights, which is basically a collection of some of their favorite tunes to cover in their live set. We get to hear Tuby nail some Dick Dale on "The Wedge", Balkan Beat Box singer Tomer Yosef lay down some Hebrew rap on "Ani Rotse Lazuz" and Dror Ahava Rohem sigh like Prince on "Marilyn Jones." There's a little spaghetti western going on in "Shayeret Harohvim" and some almost glam-ish guitar wanking in "Krai Dunavsko." The Boom Pam theme is here as they update the Aris San hit, and Italo Gonzales adds soulful vocals on "Aye Carmela." The songs are from a variety of cultural traditions, but they are all Boom Pam-ized into a coherent whole. Mostly, it just makes me hope they tour the U.S. again soon. What with Uri Kinrot playing guitar all over the new Kocani Orkestar disc, I sure hope they're not too busy.

Here are a couple of other reviews, one from, which says "Puerto Rican Nights is hardly a typical covers album. Not only are the songs themselves far from usual fare, but the band's exuberant interpretations makes for an original and unexpectedly enjoyable experience." This review has links to some song samples. likes the disc a lot, too. "A great and joyous professional phenomenon has been building here for a long time and is now at its peak after a short break and an industrial silence, that only warmed up the volcano and increased a sense of yearning. Boompamania (!!!) is back with a second album made entirely of cover versions of the beloved tunes they've been playing in their shows throughout the years..." They give some nice histories of the origins of many of the tunes. Who knew some of the instrumentals were from old cassettes of Uri's parents? "Marilyn Jones" is from a Hassidic comedy, and Aye Carmela is from the soundtrack of the Israeli film "Comrade." The Tomer Yosef vocals translate as "I Want to Move." If you've ever seen this guy live, you know he does!

Can't leave you without some video, right? Let's get this nice live version of "Dalida" a few more hits, shall we? I like the way the color turns on, Wizard of Oz-like, when the surf guitar starts in.

And perhaps I will just put a link to, rather than imbed, the famous Reefer Madness-esque video for "Hashish, Drug of a Nation," to their tune "Hashish."
* * * * * * *

Until any of the acts mentioned above make their way back to our town, you can get your surf needs met monthly at the Hexagon Bar in south Minneapolis. Locals Big Surf host the first Saturday of every month, and there are generally a couple of other bands as well as some dj-ing. My insider source (DJ Blanche from KFAI's Fubar Omniverse) says February's Surf Night isSaturday, Feb 7 . Featured bands are Big Surf / Al's Rockabilly Quartet / The Awkwards with music before and between sets by DJ Rock the Monkey.

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