- The Wet Ones!, The Monster of Jungle Island
Every couple of years or so, the National Assessment of Educational Progress — aka "America's Report Card" — surveys America's students. And every time that report card is sent home, students are graded terribly when it comes to geography, both in the U.S. and abroad. Maybe this explains the large number of people who ask me whether Vermont is in Canada. (C'mon, guys, just look at Google Maps if you have to. You're making us all look bad.)
But perhaps the mystery is partly Vermonters' own doing. Let's be honest, we can be a confusing lot. Exhibit A: For a state nowhere near the ocean, we produce some high-quality, genre-bending surf rock. Whether it's the classic, hard-charging Barbacoa or the tongue-in-cheek pranksters in the High Breaks, the sunny sounds of southern California are no stranger to the shores of Lake Champlain.
The Wet Ones! have their own twist on the genre, injecting a dose of punk anarchy. Guitarist John Flanagan, drummer Alex Pond and bassist Amy Wild fit the classic mold of surf godfathers Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, playing instrumentals driven by Flanagan's wire-taut guitar work. On its second LP, The Monster of Jungle Island, the band simultaneously embraces surf tradition and pushes its own boundaries.
Opener "Jungle Jim" is a blast of tom-tom-riding energy. Flanagan's tone is every bit the cutting, crystalline sound that dominated airwaves in the early '60s. You can hear the reverb spring in his amp, and it is gloriously on-brand. Pond and Wild swing and rock in equal turns, locked in as tight as a wet suit.
The band avoids mere genre worship with a combination of variation and imagination. With a collective pedigree that includes heavy local acts such as Husbands AKA, In Memory of Pluto and Jessica Rabbit Syndrome, the Wet Ones! embrace their harder edges. On "Death Lily," for example, surf gives way to a massive, roiling chorus of pure power. That inclination is taken even further on the album's seventh and final track: "Tombstoning" (a term for wiping out while surfing, as well as the title of the band's previous album) goes full-on '90s grunge, with the band chugging and stomping like bastard children of the Pixies and the Surfaris.
Not weird enough for you? The Monster of Jungle Island is also an instrumental visual concept album accompanied by a suitably low-budget 15-minute film. Its story concerns Jungle Jim, who is happily living in isolation on Jungle Island — that is, until a hunter warns that he soon must contend with the isle's titular monster. Spoiler alert: Jungle Jim (Pond), the Hunter (Wild) and the Monster (Flanagan) all form a happy band by the end and rock out.
It's a testament to the Wet Ones! that their retro aesthetic — whether in surf music or an affinity for monster movies — only serves to augment rather than define them. This is a fiercely original outfit even in the confines of a beloved but sometimes rigid genre. Especially for an instrumental band, that's saying a lot.
Listen to The Monster of Jungle Island at thewetones.bandcamp.com or on Spotify. Watch the accompanying film on YouTube.