Exposé Online banner

The Thurston Lava Tube — The Year of the Dog
(Cordelia Records CD046, 2009, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2015-09-30

The Year of the Dog Cover art

As a late-comer to the warped avant-surf world of Alan Jenkins and The Thurston Lava Tube, I’m playing catch-up with the back catalog. I already covered the reissue of Free Surf #1 & #2, which dated from 2001; The Year of the Dog is their 2009 offering, and shows a fair amount of growth from those early recordings, though not any drastic change in style. The set starts with “The Poisoned Pawn Variation,” which sounds like a lost gem by the Ventures or Surfaris, a minute and a half of twang guitar and buzzing combo organ with a driving beat. As an interesting contrast, I recently listened to Bill Frisell’s Guitar in the Space Age! (2014), which pays homage to such guitar classics as “Pipeline,” “Surfer Girl,” and “Rebel Rouser.” And as much as I respect Frisell’s playing, his recording comes off as stuffy and kind of dull compared to the Lava Tube, whose version of “Pipeline” on this album beats Frisell’s hands down. In addition to “Pipeline,” the covers on The Year of the Dog range beyond just surf to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Ziggy Stardust,” both of which make perfect sense once you hear them, and are a lot of fun to boot. But those three covers leave 12 originals, and they are the real key to the band’s success – a band cannot survive on stunt covers alone. In addition to having the standard tropes of instrumental surf music down pat, they throw unexpected curves, like the oom-pah-pah accordion in “Where Is the Hyena Magnet?” or the electronic noises in “1e4 Nc6” or the free improv section of “Action Dog.” One thing that’s carried on from the days of Free Surf #1 is the looseness of the performance. These recordings are not perfect renditions – nor should they be. The slight imperfections are minor compared to the spirit of the playing. This is maybe a lesson Bill Frisell could learn from The Thurston Lava Tube: perfection is often the enemy of enjoyment in music. Don’t get me wrong – The Year of the Dog is not sloppy, just sprited, and you can tell they didn’t use 35 takes of each track to get every note in place and drain the feeling out of their playing.


Filed under: New releases, 2009 releases

Related artist(s): The Thurston Lava Tube

Latest news

2019-01-11
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more

2019-01-02
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more

2018-12-23
Seaprog Festival Seeks Donations – Seaprog is a small festival in Seattle that highlights creative music from many genres with artists from around the world. It's also a US non-profit organization. They're seeking donations to help keep the ball rolling. Starting in 2013, the organization has been growing, and has featured such artists as Free Salamander Exhibit, Jack o' the Clock, Nik Turner, Cabezas de Cera, Miriodor, Thinking Plague, and many more. » Read more

2018-11-16
The Seventeenth Dream of Dr Sardonicus Festival Tickets Now Available – Fruits de Mer Records and their merry crew of psychedelic explorers are getting set to present the next The Seventeenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival. The dates are set for August 2-4, 2019 at The Cellar Bar in Cardigan, Wales. They've also announced that the legendary Groundhogs will top the bill. » Read more

2018-11-02
Charles O'Meara (C.W. Vrtacek) RIP – A true musical original has left us. Charles O'Meara, who recorded under the name C.W. Vrtacek, was a wild-card musical talent, ranging from complex progressive rock to introspective modern compositions, with stops at many places inbetween. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Niacin - Niacin & High Bias – The cover of the first Niacin shows the venerable Hammond B3, a creature of legend. So you get an idea what you are in for. Who is Niacin? I think this would be called a "pet project" where...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues