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Sex Wax Goes Surfing

Sex Wax Goes Surfing

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.”

Sigur Rós - Valtari

Sigur Rós – Valtari

Sigur Rós - Valtari


Like any Sigur Ros album, listening to Valtari for the first time is like waking from a nap—groggy and un-lucid. All music is a series of patterns: keys, scales, chords, progressions but somehow Sigur Ros consistently avoids such trappings (four years after the band formed in 1994 they added a keyboard player who was the first member to have any formal musical training). Instead of verses and choruses, the band settle into some dream logic who’s music is as prickly and gentle as a shiver running up your spine and whose lyrics come across like an elfin spell (or perhaps the Twin Peaks dwarf gently cooing you to sleep at your bedside while the fever wears off, or continues, gloriously forever). Is it my tin ear or does Icelandic (or the nonsensical language that Jonsi occasionally sings in “Vonlenska” or “Hopelandic”) sound a bit like English played backwards? It would not surprise me if eventually Sigur Ros released a box set of everything they did in reverse wherein we would discover that each song served as a different lentil soup recipe. Or directions to build a giant rainbow.

This is where the weakness becomes the strength. It is less ambitious. It is a sidestep. A diversion from a path that was itself a diversion. Click To Tweet

Sigur Rós – Valtari

This isn’t to suggest that Valtari is some masterpiece or the high point of Sigur Ros’s career. It is neither. I just am not interested in delving into its shortcomings. I can’t quite explain why this album’s exact flaws become more and more endearing. Here’s an attempt anyway: Our Icelandic boys find themselves wading through a slow, slogging syrup throughout the entire album. Their usual crescendos and rhythmic flurries are all forsaken (aside from a brief attempt at a bpm over 60 in the album’s most churning piece “Valou”) for something that seems to amount to an examination of the void. The hypnagogic void. The subliminal void. The vicodin void—this is the shit I would imagine some phenomenal biopic of Michael Jackson would use, in the vein of Terrence Malick, for the scene where he drugs himself into a death-coma while we watch in slow awe as our hero fades away from this life of sound and fury that, pathetic as it reads on paper, has a glorious tinge of the heroic within.

Sigur Rós - Valtari

Sigur Rós during the recording of Valtari
Jón Þór Birgisson
Georg Hólm
Orri Páll Dýrason
Kjartan Sveinsson

There has been a certain trajectory to Sigur Ros’s albums from 1997’s Von establishing their amorphic ethereal sound through 2008’s Með Suð I Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust which found them trudging their way into a kind of acoustic pop realm that becomes bouncy and melodic. Jonsi’s 2010 solo album Go further clarifies this evolution by focusing his sound, simplifying it. Valtari takes a wild sidestep off of this trajectory. It is interesting that something so hushed and almost lazy can come across as almost wild but in the context of Sigur Ros’s career this is a new wilderness. What was becoming clear and rousing, rhythmic and fierce has now evaporated into an introverted ambience. Valtari is less a band performing together than it is something akin to a symphony warming up while a few kettles whistle with boiling water perfectly on key.

This is where the weakness becomes the strength. It is less ambitious. It is a sidestep. A diversion from a path that was itself a diversion. It is a muscle loosening. The soundtrack to a king’s golden slumber.

String Theory Gone Kaputtt

String Theory Gone Kaputtt

In the world of independent music there are no rules. When Bob Dylan was accused of lifting lines directly from Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza (Kodansha, 1991) for Love and Theft (Columbia, 2001), people took notice, likely because this was a first for idiosyncratic Google-nerds to have a poke at a giant. Did it change the way Dylan works? Dylan himself has admitted as much that every good artist must borrow, beg and steal from his or her influences. Indeed, “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”—itself plagiarized from 12th century Bernard of Chartres—is the natural way of things. To say otherwise would negate Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Newtonian Physics and String Theory, which is to say, everything. Now that the possibility exists that everything can be scrutinized, does that change how we make things, especially art?

Jeff Hassay is hard to pin down as an artist. Is he a musician? A writer? A male model? A conceptual installationist? A d.i.y. foodie who roasts his own coffee and makes multi-vitamins? Composer of the short film score for the film short The Night Girl, player, multi-instrumentalist and composer for three American tours of Mango Productions’ Woven, uncredited engineer on RTX’s Transmaniacon (Drag City, 2004), self-producer of multiple albums of material under the names of Fission Works and Cockfighter, Hassay has now emerged from relative obscurity with a new album, Kaputtt. The album, released on January 24th, 2011—a day before Destroyer’s Kaputt (Merge, 2011)—under the newly dubbed moniker Creator, feels lighter and more off the cuff than Dan Bejar’s late 70s-early 80s tinged synth-pop storytelling. Of course, covering someone else’s mostly unreleased material will do that. As art critic Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer puts it, “So 2011: the cover preceding the original. Injecting a nonlinear hiccup into the historical flow.” Is this how revolutions begin? Not by invading nations with bombs and drones, but by self-immolating fruit vendors and hiccups in the flow?

String Theory Gone Kaputtt

Creator Kaputtt (Hill of Beans Records, 2011)

Kaputtt by Creator (Jeff Hassay, 2011)

Kaputtt by Creator (Jeff Hassay, 2011)

HESO: Where did you come up with the idea to cover an unreleased album?

Hassay: I thought it would be a cool conceptual thing to do, release a cover album before the actual album comes out. Disjunct time. It’s something Philip K. Dick would have done, if he were back from the dead, could play guitar, and liked Destroyer.

HESO: Thinking along the lines of where you come from and where you are going. Your last album, the 2010 Universal Field Theory Blues flows much like Einstein’s own forays into the unification of electromagnetism and gravitation: quiet, yet at times groovy and raucous, but mostly contemplative and ending much before its realized. Beside scientific principles, what else motivates you to create?

Hassay: 12 influences: Pliny the Elder, elder berries, Barry Mannilow, Sweet and Lowdown (Woody Allen, 1999), down in the tube station at midnight, Night on Earth (Jim Jarmusch, 1991), Eartha Kitt, kittens with string, String Theory (or the lack thereof), Theodore Roosevelt, Arise Therefore (Palace Music, 1996), formative years (including these now).

HESO: What’s your next project?

Hassay: My next musical project (literally) is a dubstep concept album about Teddy Roosevelt. The new band shall be called “_ship” pronounced “spaceship” and the album will probably be The Rise and Demise of Theodore Roosevelt. I want to do some of it acoustically. I have three poems for you:

summertime (in my mind)
you are now part of this

invite me
your pool party

oh teenage girl
swing that pillow at your pig-tailed friend
for the glory of god

Jeff Hassay might be so talented in so many different fields that unifying them all may prove—as Einstein found—too much to take on in the short time allotted to him, to each of us. For if we research all of the esoteric influences on every one of Dylan’s or anyone’s albums, we might find ourselves bound too closely by Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty to affect not only what we do, but how it is done. So how then do we know if Schroedinger’s Cat is dead? How do we hear the lessons of life’s rich bounty without polluting it with our own desirous clamor? Realizing that Shiva the Destroyer, is also the Creator, might be the first step. The next one might simply be to hear with our hearts rather than merely listening with our ears.

Download Kaputtt by Creator
Links to Jeff Hassay’s previous work:

A Way You’ll Never Be (Masterpiece in Four Parts)

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