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A Broke Down Melody Review

by Dan MacIntosh

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The surf movie soundtrack to A Brokedown Melody is not your father's surf music. You will not find an obvious correlation between these new tracks and, say, those of Dick Dale, The Ventures, and The Surfaris of old. Surf music of yesterday was characterized by monster electric guitar riffs, which sonically mirrored imposing crashing waves. Dale's electric lead licks were lightning fast, the way surfboards cut through waves. These contemporary sea sport meditations, on the other hand, are more relaxing than motivational.

This CD's laidback spirit is best exemplified by M. Ward's "Transfiguration #1," which skips along to the rhythm of chirping crickets and strummed acoustic guitars. Surfer/musician Jack Johnson also adds a touch of acoustic guitar folk with "Breakdown (Movie Version)." Kings of Convenience (with Feist) similarly makes its "Know How" contribution an acoustic one - albeit with a welcome Latin feel.

Many with tunnel vision view surf culture as a prime example of Americana. After all, what is more American than Beach Boys music? But this collection also incorporates a few international elements into its mix. Culver City Dub Collective opens the disc with an easy sailing reggae instrumental, and Jonny Osbourne contributes organ-drenched "We Need Love," which rides over a loping, lovers rock reggae beat.

All this variety makes it music inspired by surfing, rather than strictly surf music. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, a surfer himself, is oddly accompanied by a ukulele (I think) on "Goodbye." Doug Martsch steps away from Built to Spill's fractured blues for the foot-tapping hoedown that is "Heart (Things Never Shared)." Beta Band's "Needles in My Eyes," with its ominous, uninterrupted organ lines and understated electric guitar, is a little spooky -- not a mood that usually accompanies surf action.

If you view Beta Band's nervous take as a sort of uninvited guest, then you probably do not remember Surf Punks. This zany band uniquely combined angry Southern California punk rock with its love of surfing. The Surf Punks began their tirade decades ago, back when punk was barely emerging from the suburbs and streets of Southern California. Thus, surf music with an edge is nothing new.

With few exceptions, this collection is an easygoing affair. These sounds paint the picture of twilight bonfires where happy people roast marshmallows, sit in a circle, and sings familiar songs together in harmony - like an old Coke commercial. While other artists have sometimes portrayed the surfing lifestyle as man's battle against nature, this collective sides with a more universal we're-all-one-with-nature approach.

For surfers, surfing is their drug. So, to put it in drug vernacular, this soundtrack is a mild depressant when placed side by side with yesterday's "Hawaii Five-O" adrenaline-boosting, stimulant rush. Just listen and relax. Chill, don't thrill.


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A Broke Down Melody

Label:Bushfire Records
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