Friday, November 7, 2008

Laika & The Cosmonauts Are Literally The Coolest Surf Band In The World. They Also Have A New Album Out!

Laika & The Cosmonauts


As if The Scandinavians didn't give us enough great music already, the lesser known Finland spawned the 'surf' act Laika & The Cosmonauts in 1987. That alone would mean that Laika & The Cosmonauts are literally THE COOLEST SURF BAND IN THE WORLD just by latitude. Luckily for us, there's a lot more to it. They had a track featured on Children of Nuggets that was a surf styled interpretation of the Psycho/Vertigo themes, have garnered praise and attention as a legit surf band even though nobody can surf in that part of the world, have caught the eye of many ranging from Dick Dale, Agent Orange, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and even Al Jorgensen from Ministry. I'm not sure what to say about that one, but I guess everyone's entitled to a moment of clarity. Then again, who can say that they don't like "Jesus Built My Hotrod"? Laika & The Cosmonauts are unlike anything else you've ever heard. Surf guitar, space age lounge grooves, exotica, bossa nova, and '50s UFO movies crammed into a reputation as being a very, very loud band. In celebration of over 20 years together, the good folks at YepRoc have released Cosmopolis, a collection of 'hits', at least as much as they can be for an instrumental surf band, along with a lot of really surprising unreleased material. The stuff is just cool. It's weird, surf, kitschy at times, but it is definitely loud rock.

Cosmopolis packs a lot. 27 tracks, in fact. That's only fitting for a band that's so musically ambitious, though. The first and final tracks are taken from a live music performance accompanying a film viewing in 2005. The tunes are pretty out there. Spacy and eerie. The opening track has enough cymbals on it to create an effect of a neverending introduction with simple guitar, but the closing number takes full advantage of great surf tremolo and builds to a climax with a great beat. I guess that's one thing that really makes Laika & The Cosmonauts stand out is that the beats are a lot heavier. Instead of playing in compliment to give surf guitar a beat, the beat itself drives their songs along. "Floating" is surf muted reverb and tremolo in all its glory, but it also has great melodic guitar flourishes and a 4/5 beat that's much faster than the typical 1-2-4 structure that is inherent in most rock songs. Real surf music from Finaland. Unbelievable. But just when one thinks they 'get' their sound, a track like "Rikki On the Loose" is a little jolt of "Away From The Numbers" from The Jam in intro alone, but gets into an upbeat groove with some great organ that just makes it cool. It's unlike anything you've heard, but it's good enough that you end up just going along with it. That's kind of the effect one gets from every track on Cosmopolis. "The Note Crisis" is a almost a surf/swinging tune that settles at times into more familiar surf guitar style, but the song is swinging tune at the same time that briefly breaks into a ska beat. Among the covers on Cosmopolis is Mancini's "Experiment In Terror", which is noteworthy '60s spy and martini coolness. Although "Global Village" sounds like an awful song title and thus, bad hippie jam music to follow, the keyboard gives it a futuristic from a late '50s perspective. Again, a great beat, though. "Disconnected" is not only bizarre in initially reminding me of "You'll Dance To Anything (Instant Club Hit)" with it's sampling, but it was a creative recording of an attempt to dial up Ministry one night with negative results. This was back in the day when people actually used land lines and operators. Many of you don't remember that, but the pranking and failure to connect is also chronicled in The Beastie Boys first foray from punk into rap, "Cookiepuss" and the theme of not getting the connection goes even farther back to "606-0842" from The B-52s. One doesn't always listen to The Classics, but they left a great mark on music. There's surf guitar in it. Oh, a good melody, too. It's like they took some cheesy elements that is turned mostly into crap by bands devoted to other genres, but they gave those ideas the right music to make something really cool out of it.

"Torquoise" was said to capture a Mediterranean atmosphere, but the first time I heard it, it felt more like Sergio Leone to me, but the flamenco guitar and complimenting beat definitely lends itself more to a beach side siesta. These guys are from Finland? "Surfs You Right!" was a minor hit and has its place on Cosmopolis as a straightforward surf song that can hold its own with any well known one. "Look! No Head!" is just a gift from the farthest reaches of your mind! Ok, it could be Ministry playing surf music! In fact, not only is it the same melody as "Aim! Reload" from Filth Pig, which is the title track of the album that Laika & The Cosmonauts in 1987. That alone would mean that Laika & The Cosmonauts supported them for part of a tour, it's noted as a thank you card to them for being their supporting act. It's definitely loud and the distorted voice reminds me of Killing Joke's "Wardance", but damn! Great surf guitar. This one definitely goes where no one has gone before into a combination of surf and postpunk that will grab one by the throat! The previously mentioned "Psyko" is included and definitely 60's horror/spy/surf coolness in all its glory that never seems to grow old. Another muted reverb hit, "C'mon Do The Laika" is included and will hopefully be something that everyone will be doing for years to come. "Fear" is a Ventures cover, but it's so steeped in '60s organ that you'd never know it. "Boris The Conductor" suggest a more orchestrated approach. Likewise, the surf guitar buildup is somewhat classical, which I'm not a big fan of classical music since it's sow well connected to heavy metal, but this is just so much cooler and gives any longhaired headbanger who's stupid enough to take themselves seriously a good run for their money.

Things get psychedelic funk on "Circumstantial Evdidence" from the percussive beat and funk guitar intro, but progresses into a melodic territory that demands to be heard. Laika & The Cosmonauts are anything but predictable. "Delayrium" reflects a progression into experimental electronica, but it's still bizarre enough to hold one's ears with '60s overtones although the keyboard echoes are definitely modern. NY '79 was an attempt at seeing what they would have sounded like as a NY band in '79. The results are mixed because the song itself is a great standard surf song with a beat that brings one back the Blondie but like surf music, it's musically a lot better. One could imagine that like The Talking Heads in those days, many would have loved them for being so out there, but few would have really got them. A track that could have been a horror movie tune but got its name from a billboard advertising an all nude strip club in Austin, "Expose" is intriguing based on its inspiration, but one doubts that they'll ever hear music this good at a nudie bar. Then again, I've never been to one, so I'm not a good judge of that. There's lounge weirdness in "Get Carter" with a bossa nova beat and great keys. There's also a South Pacific tome of "Fadeaway" that has acoustic slide guitar and is purely hula and tropical drinks. Other tracks like the cover of The Ipcress File evoke spy coolness that sounds like it could be a seductive dance with a woman playing castanets. It's all very early '60s, very surfed out, but very bizarre, cool, and weird at the same time. Unlike a lot of rock 'n' roll, Laika & The Cosmonauts completely break the formulas while still sounding familiar. The result of music that's way out there in sound and rock compared to the rest of one's collection of '60s garage and surf, but simultaneously is something that one can't put down even on the first listen. The music makes one keep listening to find out where it goes, but it goes to places that one has been to before, but not necessarily r seen or fully experienced. It's not just great music. That would make things too easy. It's otherworldly, forward looking, basic, and rock 'n' roll in ways that really can't be placed. There's also elements of lounge and spy music previously mentioned, but it rocks like drinking a martini and getting punched at the same time. If anything, that's the best way to describe Laika & The Cosmonauts because it's familiar but like good rock 'n' roll, it occasionally shocks also.

After over 20 years of proving yet again why some of the best, original rock 'n' roll comes out of The Scandinavian sub continent, Laika & The Cosmonauts are calling it quits and performing their very last shows on Friday and Saturday, 10/31 and 11/1 at The Continental Club in Austin, Texas. That shouldn't stop anyone else from getting their music, though. It's spacey surf lounge and bachelor pad rock for ages to come.

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