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Those big old wagons the happening kids all load their surfboards into in beach-party movies are called “woodies,” and they’re really repainted hearses.

The Sandworms seem well aware of that fact.

“We’re gonna take you on a little trip,” says guitarist CJ Dagger before the band begins “Bump in the Night.” “Hope y’all dig it.”
Dressed all in black, the Sandworms look ready to catch a clinically depressed wave down the River Styx, and guitarist-keyboardist Harvey McLaughlin’s funeral-organ riff would make for some incredibly somber tube-shooting. Drummer Svia Svenlava’s classic surf-rock rhythm can’t help but be uptempo though, and it drags bassist Shirlee Shadows’s boneyard psychobilly into sunnier waters. Once McLaughlin switches over to lead guitar, the song could practically soundtrack Moon Doggy’s big win at the annual Hang 10-Off or some shit, but something about the way the instruments play off one another suggests he’d be surfing sarcastically somehow, maybe rolling his eyes and yawning pointedly just before he wipes out.

“Escape From Dimension 13” sounds like a high-speed convertible chase thanks to Svenlava’s expert use of the genre’s classic “pah PAH pah” to propel McLaughlin’s high-fret lead line. “Crab Nebula” deploys a hook that sounds a little like the “White Wedding” at 1.5 speed until McLaughlin gets all Johnny B. Goode with it. Get Fred Schneider to holler some nonsense over the top of it all, and you’d have the first decent excuse in years to do the swim.

The title of “Vampire Clambabies From Outerspace” proves the Sandworms are just screwing with us, but the high-voltage instrumentation insists they’re completely serious. Musically it shows absolute veneration of the surf-rock tradition, but it’s played with the attitude of the tea-smoking no-goodniks who’ll go through your stuff while you’re out riding waves and snatch your wallet for late-night drive-in-movie money.

McLaughlin’s guitar, performing loosely structured stunts on top of Dagger’s driving rhythmic backdrop, is usually what keeps the ever-present ebb and flow from seeming stagnant, but “Curse of the Banshee Queen” rides Shadows’ low-end shred to shore. Set-closer “Thundercorpse” ventures into the heavies, hitting fast-forward to hint at a possible future: This mopey sci-fi surf-punk thing just might become bitchin’ enough to transcend its purposely goofy concept. I’d say that in hodad lingo, but I ran out a few sentences back. Cowabunga, or something. — Jeremy Martin

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January 13, 2020

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