The Spirit of Surf

The Spirit of Surf

The term “Sex Wax” has always fascinated me. As a youth growing up in Long Beach, our tiny house just separated from the beach by the Pacific Coast Highway, my mother told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to “set foot across PCH.” Hearing talk of body boarding and surfing at school every day only made it worse. So close to the ocean, yet so far, the oddly-dropped phrase took on a dirty kind of intimacy–sticky love, naughty touching, a desirable kind of scuzz, imagined of course, for how would I know, not being able to experience it first hand without a parent’s well-meaning yet restrictive hand holding mine through the crosswalk? So I pined and imagined I heard the surf from my window. I listened to the Beach Boys while my grandfather tapped on the arm of his recliner. I listened to the Ventures on remastered compact disk. I listened to Dick Dale and the Del-Tones.

In reality, I had no idea what it actually was. As I wasn’t introduced to surfing until much later, after moving far from Long Beach, I have always carried the term Sex Wax around with me, jangling about in the back of my mind like a misinterpreted dirty secret. When I finally went surfing (and got my ass kicked by the Ocean Goddess herself) and realized the incredible skill, strength and focus it takes to commune with the sea in harmonious glide, I was in awe. Who knew that Sex Wax was an actual thing, a product for staying on your board, useful as all hell?

But, it is so much more as well. The new musical incarnation of Jeff Hassay, of the bands Cockfighter and Creator, which saw the release of last year’s Destroyer cover album Kaputt, Sex Wax is just in time for summer. Or rather summer’s end. While talking to Hassay recently, he had this to say about the album:

“I just finished my surf album, my band is now called ‘sex wax’ because the name rules and is part of surf lingo…The funny thing as well is that I haven’t been surfing in a year–that’s my biggest similarity to the beach boys; as summer started I literally chose to spend June in my room making songs about surfing as opposed to spending June surfing.”

Sex Wax Goes SurfingThe song titles come from the surf lingo that has defined west coast culture for sixty years, and the films that have perforated the world with surfers from Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka, to Bells Beach in Australia, La Libertad in El Salvador, the Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii, Teahupoʻo in Tahiti, and Supertubos in Portugal (to name but a few): Big Wednesday, Point Break. One almost expects there to be an musical homage to Baywatch, CHiPs and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But like a surfer making a split second decision to cutback, the album takes another tack: it follows a day at the beach, from sunrise to sunset and beyond.

For all its wannabe Gidget-era baggage it lugs onto the soundboard, the album is far from derivative. Rather than purely instrumental, it’s loquacious. In lieu of the wet reverb sound so alternatively loved and hated the guitars are modern and fresh with unexpected turns and rarely fall into the shuddering tremolo picking style of surfrock heroes come before. On the eponymous opening track, “Surfing” there is no trepidatious dipping of toes to check the water, but rather the warm keyboard notes and progressive bassline propping up a sunny guitar riff. The closing track, “Dreamz”, is a cyclical surfrock saga from raucous riptide to exhaustive water-treading and back into shore. Sparse melodies intertwine around propulsive vocals keynote the album’s theme of bodies undulating in the wetness of life–moving, dancing, surfing.

The only drawback to the album is that–as Hassay confesses–he recorded it indoors. While he may have missed the gloom of June that so plagues southern California beaches, what the album misses is a live, outdoorsy feel: the salt and sand of the sea. Ironically, what may be the saving grace of modern music–the insularity of a one-man band digitally recording analogue instruments in a home studio, democratizing a costly process–also tends to distance us from our beloved environment. We are perpetually one the wrong side of PCH without a hand to guide us toward our Pacific Ocean Goddess. On the plus side, now you have the ability to have an portable orchestra on your device, listenable at your leisure as you laze on the virtual sand before the big blue crushes us all back to dust. Sex Wax goes surfing indeed.

As Hassay intones on Sex Wax, “This is the time for the flood and ions and good ideas.”