Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much of a surfing culture in New Hampshire. We only have about 18 miles of coastline and a climate that creates a relatively brief window for visiting the beach. Not to mention our abundance of mountains and snow has always made snowboarding our state’s dominant board-related sport.
Even so, I’ve always loved the incredible technique required by surfing, as well as the sheer beauty of people conquering an enormous wave from the almighty ocean. It’s been a mild interest I’ve kept from afar ever since I watched The Endless Summer and its sequels as a kid.
Sports movies are only as good as their soundtracks, though, which was an added bonus when it came to the psychedelic surf rock that served as the backdrop for chill dudes hanging out near the ocean. Naturally, times change, and after stumbling on Self Discovery For Social Survival, it’s great to see that surf soundtracks have clearly evolved accordingly.
The eponymous film was a collaboration between record label Mexican Summer and surf/outdoor brand Pilgrim Surf + Supply, with footage shot in Mexico, the Maldives, and Iceland. The backdrop for the film is fittingly psychedelic and spacious, though noticeably modern in its composition. Allah-Las, Connan Mockasin, and Andrew VanWyngarden handle the majority of the tracks on the album, with Dungen, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and Peaking Lights contributing one or a couple tracks each. Each artist brings their own unique flair to the overarching theme of the album, being an invigorated take on classic oceanic-themed surf jams.
The laid-back, summery vibe flows right out of the gate on Dungen’s “Var Har Du Varit.” A dancing piano and synth melody anchor the track, which meanders blissfully through beautiful psychedelic atmospheres. There’s even a prominent surf-rock riff that pierces through the soundscape to add an extra wink toward the past.
Allah-Las come through with their own iteration of this style on “Mulberry Jam.” The band’s first outing on the album is smooth and infectious with a sticky guitar hook that befits its title. The first offering from Cantu-Ledesma turns things in a different direction right after, which is unsurprising given his background but nonetheless fresh and unique. His ambient stylings perfectly translate this psych-rock approach into an equally chill electronic soundscape.
Further on, Allah-Las continue their jam-themed songwriting with similarly sweet results. Meanwhile, “Bad Boys” from Mockasin and VanWyngarden is perhaps the most experimental cut on the album, with odd vocal effects and modulations atop a groovy, tropical beat. Peaking Lights come through with a couple of synth-pop gems on “Mirror in the Sky” and “Hold On,” further bolstering the soundtrack’s varied approach.
As the album draws closer to its conclusion, Mockasin and VanWyngarden continue to roll out different sonic flavors that cement the album as a whimsical, adventurous ride defined by plenty of reasons to kick back and enjoy the ride. It may seem odd to highlight a soundtrack to this degree, but it truly stands on its own legs as an album worth the attention of anyone interested in psychedelic music. If you can’t get out an surf, this might just be the next best thing to scratch that itch.
Self Discovery For Social Survival is available now via Mexican Summer.