Listen. I don’t know much about surf rock.
I grew up on the edge of the fucking desert, arguably a decade or so after the height of surf rock. I know some of the classics. The Ventures, Dick Dale, etc. But I don’t think of it very often. And typically when I do, it’s when I hear something surf-rock adjacent in a Quentin Tarantino movie. And while my patience for QT dried up several years and maybe four movies ago, the man does know his music.
You know who else knows music? My kid brother. Ben was the one who introduced me to some of my favorite bands. He’s the reason we had New Model Army and The Replacements vinyl in the house growing up. So I owe him a huge debt there. And as we’ve grown older, he and I share our musical discoveries and influences back and forth. He’s got a great ear and an adventuring spirit.
So it was with an eyebrow arched in surprise I beheld a post from him this morning. Apparently, late last night when he really should have been sleeping, he stumbled upon a YouTube video post of an entire sampler CD of Mexican instrumental surf punk / fuzz rock that he just loved. By the time I was four songs in, I was already building a playlist from the list of bands on the sampler who I had never, not even once, heard of.
Which brings us to Fenomeno Fuzz.
This five-piece surf/garage band from Ciudad, Mexico, is out of this world. And while they have a degree of recognition in Mexico, I’m pretty confident most people around these parts have never heard them. And that’s a shame.
See, here’s the thing: surf rock, by and large, is instrumental. It’s characterized by rolling drums, fuzzy guitar hooks, and cheerful energy. It’s kind of a music without borders. And with the miles of golden beaches Mexico has to offer, I suppose it’s no surprise that surf rock has found fertile ground in which to thrive there.
The most recent album from Fenomeno Fuzz is titled Dia de Muertos (2018), and opens with the track, “Blacula.” We start off with the crackle of static followed by horror movie organs and screams, then a deep, wicked laugh and the strident “Psycho” notes of violin violence. Cue guitars! At which point I was hooked.
I’ve mainlined this album no less than three times already this morning alone. The energy is infectious. The steady, driving BPM of the drums, guitars cutting between shining, silver hooks and fuzzy growls, it’s the kind of music that inspires taking to the road–or the beach–and taking risks. It’s, for lack of a better word, fearless.
Now, I get it. The narrow niche that is surf music means that a lot of it sounds similar. And for all their prowess, nothing on Dia de Muertos reinvents the wheel. But it’s an excellent example of a vibrant musical sub-genre. And on the few songs where they do incorporate lyrics, like on “Siempre,” (sung in Spanish by their sole woman band member, credited on their site simply as Jessy), they transcend the genre a bit.
There’s a confident swagger in these songs. An energy evident in “Rancho Mariachi” and “Ataque!” that makes me want to write screenplays just to use them for the soundtrack. Who knows? Maybe it’s time to pen some new Gato Loco stories?
The album is short, as are the songs on it. With only 10 tracks, Dia de Muertos clocks in at a criminal 22 minutes. But they’re 22 minutes well spent. Highly recommended for your next road trip, bbq, or if you just need something to wake up to.
Check out this CD (linked above) or on Spotify (where they have under 7k followers) where they have four albums, going back to Martinis and Bikinis (2004). Their online presence seems to be limited to Facebook, and while they have a lot of shows on their current tour schedule, they’re almost entirely around the Mexico City area. So, a kind of limited regional presence playing a narrow sub-genre of music. Frankly, I’m surprised and delighted to have stumbled on them at all.
Fenomeno Fuzz abounds with reckless joy, and we could all use a little bit of that in our lives right now. Surf’s up, vatos. Catch the wave if you dare.