It’s not really the sound that draws attention to Los Straitjackets, but their unbeatable appearance and stage presence. Hailing from the country music capital of Nashville, Los Straitjackets are a surf band who sport Mexican wrestling masks and introduce songs in rapid Spanish. The review could stop here and you would be well on your way to one of their shows, but I’ll continue.
The first time I saw them, I was taken back to the infamous gimp scene in Pulp Fiction — they walked onto the stage with an obscure aura radiating. “!Hola, somos Los Strrrrraitjackets de la ciudad Nashville y vamos tocar la musica para ustedes” was shouted as a piercing drumroll took over and Dick Dale-esque riffs broke loose. Two and a half hours later, the surf tunes were over and I attempted to speak a little Spanish with the band members and purchase one of their albums. The live show had quite an effect on me, but I could only wonder if the album would have the same interest and intensity as what I had just witnessed.
The title of the album says it all, and if it doesn’t, the photo of four grown men wearing Mexican wrestling masks definitely does. Due to their appearance, it probably wouldn’t matter what they played, but even better is the fact that they play a brand of chilling, uncannily beautiful surf rock. Though hundreds of miles from the ocean, Los Straitjackets echo the feel of rushing waves hovering over your head in their impressive debut.
Slathered with reverb and single eerie notes, Los Straitjackets veer away from the cheesy typical Ventures tunes and blister your feet on the board with the hard surf sound or cool them at sunset with “Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk.” The opening track is a prime example of a near-free for all surf jam. “Fury” is one of those songs that would probably appear on an X‑Game highlight video full of surfing wipeouts or skateboarding groin injuries. “Jetty Motel,” “Carhop,” and “Tailspin” are in the same genre, containing a purer surf sound with heavy reverb and quick slides up the neck of the guitar. L.J. Lester was actually named best drummer in Nashville in 1994 and it is evident during these tracks. I can only imagine his version of “Wipeout.”
What would a surf band be without the inevitable surf ballad? You don’t have to answer that question, because “University Blvd.” is one of those heartwarming tunes that lovers walk hand in hand to near the water. Unfortunately, it’s the only one of its kind on the record. If you want more of those lovey-dovey melodic pieces, check out “Viva Los Straitjackets.”
Los Straitjackets have been known to tour like the Grateful Dead, so make sure, if there is a chance, that you stop the world and melt for them. If you aren’t into surf, it doesn’t matter. The tour dates are posted at www.straitjackets.com and you can also purchase albums and possibly masks. Be ready for insanity and nothing else. Oh yeah, the albums are great, too.
Written by Nolan Shigley.