Los Venturas
Surfers Brew






Los Venturas is a – or better: the – Antwerp-based Belgian Surf Rock band to know as an Exotica fan. Their percussion might not be as exotic as the Aqua Velvets', the instrumental pool is decidedly smaller than the one of the Euroboys, but rest assured that the four guys around bandleader and bass guitarist Andy Weller know a thing or two about the spirit of a good wave, the depiction of enchanted beaches and the artificially lonesome life at sea when hundreds of eyes watch every move of the surfer. Surfers Brew of 2006 is an album of eleven instrumental compositions, each of them a unique transfiguration of a surfer's attitude. The album is strictly guitar-based, traversed by occasional field recordings, with only one instrument-related surprise in store.


Compared to the huge follow-up Kaleydoskop of 2011, Surfers Brew is much more limited and does not branch off into too distant lands. There are spoken word samples and underlining vocals, but they are of the humming kind and used as backdrops only. The team around Andy Weller consists of the lead and rhythm guitarists Michael Schots and Christoph Boost as well as drummer Mr. P aka Peter Dedoncker. Curiously enough, the band tries to break out of the tight Surf Rock corset with many stylistic surprises, but unfortunately, the tracks where this happens are either too short, torn apart or lack the truly outstanding melodies of Kaleydoskop. Every miss provides a chance, I believe, and that is why Surfers Brew's certain lacks do in fact contain advantages. And the first unsuspected surprise is already provided in the opener.


"You need love. I need love. The whole world needs plenty of love!" I have quite a passion for Reggae and Dub music, so this fantastic opening sample on Kingston Beach (Part 1) captures anyone's heart immediately, as does the ensuing concoction of Surf Rock, Exotica and, well, Reggae. The sun-soaked rhythm guitar meanders in a Raggamuffin style, the tempo is admittedly revved up to meet a surfer's demand and the jumpy lead guitar oscillates between glowing beaches and aquatic ocean waves. This opener is admittedly short, but is resurrected much later in the form of an outro.


The following Surf Rollin' is a particularly multifaceted critter, ranging from a dreamy steel guitar beginning over a drum-fueled middle section spiced with bumblebee guitars to the doleful, loneliness-evoking bridges in minor. It is not clear to me what the band wants this song to be, as the decidedly cool attitude is constantly exchanged with this curiously phantasmagoric state. The auspiciously titled Bikini Bandits' Last Ride is much more firm in pinning down the mood: the sunset-colored vibrato of the guitars is only slightly melancholic thanks to the rushed tempo that does not leave much room for any kind of dolefulness. As a surprise, there is a female voice interwoven into the guitarscape, if only quietly so: Eva Tulkens' aah-aah chants are literally swallowed by the aura and plainly audible so that her voice acts more like another instrumental layer than a poignant elevation.


While Ah! Aziza provides a more holey-fissured structure with bandleader Andy Weller's bass guitar prominently featured in-between the surprisingly reduced mirage of Balearic guitars, related Flamenco chords, various rhythm shifts and sound effects of a dynamic siren-fueled car chase, the remarkably named Chevy Chase pays a much greater homage to a car chase frenzy than the actor himself due to its dusky desperado bass slaps, Mr. P.'s upbeat drum infusion which provides a hidden hint at an oompa rhythm, and manifold screeching guitars. Typical Surf Rock serpentines are spiraling in the background, making sure that this ditty can be linked back to the surfer's coolness.


It is The Hippy Hippy Brakes that expands the intrinsic soundscape for the first time due to a dirty tenor saxophone played by Stefan Thaens. The uplifting beat and the oscillating guitar layers altogether provide a rustic approach akin to the sounds of the Euroboys. Up next is the glorious Revenge Of The Tikies which resides in equally expanding climes: a field recording of a beach party and blurry big band brass bursts lead to the most frantic drums on the album, the biggest dose of a spy theme with dark undertones. It is the deliciously energetic tempo which makes this song work so well, and only the final seven notes deliver an anticlimactic dose of peacefulness to this otherwise ebullient piece. This song is interestingly reinterpreted on the band's 2011 album Kaleydoskop.


Operation Travolta stays in the acidic fields of bile thanks to the gleaming murkiness of its humongous guitars, the roughness of their attack rate and the short injections of cacophony. The underpinning bass sounds quite nasty, fueling the bad-ass attitude of this catchy composition ever farther. The field recording of Wave Rodeo's paradisiac waves cross-fades into Operation Travolta, and it is here where the band presents a first depiction of glitzy Surf Rock, comprising of the friendliest and sunniest riffs which then mesh with the harsher attitude of the rogue guitars. The friendly, welcoming aura remains, making Wave Rodeo a successful mediating artifact of both a sunny innocence and darker shadows.


The penultimate Oasis Blue is another huge, definitely hammock-friendly Sunday afternoon anthem with a country-side evoking guitar aorta, a yellow iridescence of the monotonous backing guitar bursts and a drumless phase of almost 90 seconds. Even when the drums enter, they are gentle, as this tune is all about the yearning of an enchanted oasis. No Oriental tone sequences are attached, but the dreamy decay of the plucked strings surely increases the tranquilizing panorama. The outro is fittingly called Kingston Beach (Part 2) and ends the album in a proper way with another short presentation of a gorgeous Reggae-inspired Surf Rock landscape. And even this song does not mark the real end, as a hidden bonus track with a particularly golden rhythm guitar is added as an apotheosis, although it cannot top the glamorous freshness of Kingston Beach.


Surfers Brew is a double-edged sword, especially so in hindsight to the magnificently varied Kaleydoskop which delivers what its title promises. Surfers Brew, however, has only two truly unique changes in its Surf Rock formula, which is the superb synthesis of Reggae, Surf Rock and a soupçon of Exotica on the chopped Kingston Beach track, and the signature inclusion of a tenor saxophone on The Hippy Hippy Brakes. Needless to say surf-related bands do not need to deliver piles of different instruments, but the occasional field recording is not enough anymore to ennoble a soundscape of any genre. I sound admittedly harsher than I want to be, so don't get me wrong, Los Venturas' Surfers Brew is saturated, sounds fantastic and offers the right mixture of aggression, dreaminess and lonesomeness.


Although it is lacking a truly memorable, utterly enchanting melody – Kaleydoskop is chock-full of these – the band convinces me with the different guitar textures and the occasional rhythm and atmosphere shifts that do not take place in transit between songs, but locally in one and the same song. The approach is decidedly modern, only the colorful and blithesome Wave Rodeo harks back to the 60's, at least that is how I perceive it. Make no mistake, though: Surfers Brew is a proper Surf Rock album, and a cohesive one it is too, reciprocating between scents of coziness, slivers of spy themes, many energetic arrangements and that gorgeous nod at the Reggae genre which I crave, as I consider Kingston Beach one of the band's signature tunes. While I prefer the joyride of Kaleydoskop, it lacks the dedicated focus, as it is definitely more cinematic. In this regard, Surfers Brew is much more honest and truthful to the genre.


Exotica Review 177: Los Venturas – Surfers Brew (2006). Originally published on Feb. 2, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.