There’s this one episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in which Brandon, Brenda, and the gang bring their rayon shirts, sideburns, and bi-level eye sockets, and go see some surf band at the Peach Pit.
Of course, the band is little more than a prop, which is unfortunate, because the dudes providing the background music and window dressing are none other than The Eliminators, reverb-drenched revivalists in the vein of The Ventures and Dick Dale. If none of those names ring a bell, it’s probably because surf rock is a genre relegated to the corporate ghetto, like toothpaste commercials and Disney movies. And yet, the music survives, having evolved from its early-’60s beginnings into diverse species such as Man … Or Astroman?’s sci-fi soundscapes for transistor radios or the swingin’, hooch-soaked party that is The Aquamen. Some bands take the common elements (reverb, Stratocasters, and Beatles-esque backbeats) and parlay them nicely into paeans to spy flicks and spaghetti westerns.
Then there’s The Mag 7, who try to weld all this to punk. The band is a super-group of sorts, made up of dudes you likely haven’t heard of but who have had long careers. Brothers Zach and Doni Blair formerly slung guitar and bass respectively for now-defunct Deep Ellum punkers Hagfish, and they’ve churned out a handful of one-off projects since the band ceased rocking lame asses in 2001. Mag 7 drummer Bill Stevenson is legendary for sitting on the throne in Black Flag and The Descendents. And guitarist Brandon Landelius is, uh, some guy from Amarillo. On The Future is Ours if You Can Count, they grind out a crunchy, brooding take on surf rock that gets the basics right but isn’t as successful in experimental territory. The Future is duly drenched in reverb, and the songs largely ride along Middle-Eastern chord progressions — there’s a lot of twinkling, snake-charmin’ riffage. And like most surf instrumentals, the band relies on cool song titles and sonic atmospherics to tell a story. For a prime example of storytelling through orchestration, check out Dick Dale’s “The Wedge.”
When you hear the galloping drums dropping into precarious, double-pummeled fury, you get a sense of the notorious, 20-foot, bone-crushing wave of the same name. But what is The Mag 7 trying to say with a track called “Poonzilla”? It sounds like an overcooked parody of The Munsters theme. Conjuring visions of Yvonne DeCarlo is fine, but couching them in a tacky vagina joke is a mite silly. Sure, maybe tacky jokes are kind of the point. The record seems to have been dreamed up as a lark, which might explain the clever jokes, like “Shitload of Dimes,” “I Drive Like Steve McQueen,” and the not-so-clever “Ninja, Please.” They all have cheekily ghoulish grooves, as if Rob Zombie had done the score to Back to the Beach. It’s occasionally fun, but it’s probably also guaranteed to piss off the purists. In other words, don’t expect to find The Mag 7 on the soundtrack to the next Tarantino movie. The Future, however, could neatly frame a post-apocalyptic surf flick. Think Big Wednesday II: Arizona Bay, and you’ve got the idea. While the songs fail in authenticity, they are at least short — all but one of them clock in under two-and-a-half minutes. The brevity, though, also makes them mostly forgettable. You won’t find any “Wipeout” successors here, and nothing that’s going to kick-start anyone’s career. Still, if you’re looking for a vision of blasted pavement running into the Pacific, catch The Mag 7. Uh, dude.