Aqua Velvets

  • Aqua Velvets
  • The Aqua Velvets (Riptide) 1992  (Heyday) 1993 
  • Surfmania (Mesa) 1995 
  • Nomad (Milan) 1996 

Nobody knows how or why, but the early ’90s saw dozens of San Francisco bands pulling out their best retro-’60s chops and pickin’ away on twangy, reverb-heavy guitars. In a city known more for foggy B-movie atmospherics than suntanned beach bunnies, a cult began to grow, led by new wave and world beat dropouts like the Aqua Velvets (lead guitarist Miles Corbin, bassist/keyboardist/accordionist Michael Lindner, rhythm guitarist Hank Maninger and drummer Donn Spindt). Although this revival is certainly steeped in intellectual cool and a sometimes smug world-weary irony, there’s no denying the musical smarts and killer backbeats that drive every track the Velvets have committed to disc.

The eponymous debut officially kicked off the Great San Francisco Surf Revival. The self-released album was quickly picked up by Heyday and brought the movement a national profile. (Tracks popped up on MTV’s House of Style Swimsuit Special, ESPN’s Max Out and the soundtrack to Blazing Longboards.) Corbin has clearly studied the Big Book of ’60s Instrumentals, and tips his hat to Dick Dale, the Ventures, Ennio Morricone, Link Wray and other iconic dynamos, but the Aqua Velvets transcend influences to create their own cozy bit of dreamy ocean-front property.

Surfmania continues the magic with more neo-classical sounds that transport you to a place where the sun never sets, the waves are perfect, the guitars are always in tune, the lounge is always open, the drinks are never watered and the boys and girls never age. Corbin’s compositions here are even stronger than those on the band’s debut. The faux Latin of “Mexican Rooftop Afternoon,” the faux Polynesia of “Martin Denny, Esq.” and the faux noir of “Raymond Chandler Evening” continue the winning combination of hot licks and cool irony.

[j. poet]