We Don't Surf
Not at the Beach / Valentinegaze / Hi-Fi EP
By Kaylen Hann | 24 March 2011
“Our only rule is that we write all the songs on the spot and never take more than a day to finish an EP.” So goes one of the most #KanyeShrug of premises for a garage (or basement?) band that brusquely and deservedly horns in on the distorted indie-garbage, surf-rock genre with a rapid-fire release of EPs. (The drummer’s feature EP, Post-Pop, was actually released this month as I was writing this very review.) And each release, an impromptu gesture to the best of the Best Coasts, rips off those they address in blatant ways, all whilst telling them to, uh, cram it with walnuts.
Outside of dropping acid in the bathtub with the faucet running, living in Bloomington, Indiana, shouldering full course-loads at Indiana University, and juggling a handful of bands does not provide many surfing opportunities. All this, however, hinders not the creative, surf-rock aspirations of non-surfing enthusiasts We Don’t Surf. While bands like Tennis tackle off-shore legitimacy head-on, salty doggin’ it up with the utmost legit of endeavors—sailin’ ‘round the world and all that bullshit—We Don’t Surf holds no such delusions or desires of wave-riding grandeur. Instead they hold their titular activity in equal regard and disdain, even to the extent of making this ambivalent relationship with all things surfing their keystone component.
Shrouded in copious veils of intended mystery, the band in all bio-pages divvies up the musical contributions by an anonymous, Prisoner-esque numbered system, labeling their bandmates “Surfer 1” through “Surfer 7.” They post as their band description something equally insubstantial: “Musicians who don’t surf and wish we surfed so we sing about our not surfing.” To run the band name through The Google is to come up just as empty-handed. Surprisingly few, reviewers or otherwise, have cared enough to delve any further than that dainty sampling of non-information, leaving unplumbed the depths of the enigma-wrapped-in-a-non-surfing-riddle of a fairly dope-ass garage band project that is We Don’t Surf.
The only two consistent members of the band are Jerome Assad (“Surfer 1”) of Jerome and the Psychics and Nick Tromley (“Surfer 2”) of the Pom Poms. While Assad shoulders the majority of the songwriting across the board, the band fluctuates to include whomever happens to be willing and, I guess, puttering around in Assad’s basement at the time. Barring his solo album under We Don’t Surf (Post-Pop), Tromley mostly plays drums and sleeps on Assad’s sofa. There’s overlap aplenty between the bandmates, as Assad does the production work and drumming for the Poms Poms, while Tromley pitches in on rhythm guitar for Assad’s band.
Embracing the line Warhol jacked from Picasso about good artists borrowing and great artists stealing, each We Don’t Surf EP (and they basically move at a one-EP-per-month pace) targets a particular band—primarily sticking it to, celebrating, and brushing off their neo-surf turbotrendiness and garage pop aesthetics one by one. Not at the Beach is a saucy “how’s your mother?” to Best Coast and Thee Oh Sees, while Valentinegaze is a more direct re-tooling/re-purposing of the Cramps, Girls, Wavves, and the Warlocks. Hi-Fi, an aesthetic grab-bag of ’70s mod-punk and lo-fi garage, is some shit-kicking fun and, like most of their EPs, “fuck[ed] up bad enough that it sounds mildly original.” Vocals, like Daniel Johnston doing an impression of the Cramps, and a Jack White-styled intro, outro, and abiding dependence on a ’50s “beat!beat!-rest-beat!” percussion, fill, song-to-song, the duration of the EP.
Consider this band the beat-to-shit boogie board of the surf-pop genre. Like the better of Bishop Allen during their 12 EPs/year project, and even the—granted much more sedate—Gem Club, they’re more than just rough around the edges, they’re totally complimentary to breaking out your flip-flops and getting baked in the sun with your cheap Mexican beer of choice. For the short time they exist, the tracks on each EP consistently smack of amiable anti-pop, and emanate a simultaneous funked-up musk and perky freshness. Though an audible bird-flipping gesture may not in itself make a band’s music worth listening to, here’s a band who knows whom to stick it to and how to do it. That’s what I’d call a fun project.