We've had some things to celebrate of late: Barack Obama in the White House come January; a dose of summer heat hit in the middle of November. Literally and metaphorically, sunshine is suddenly poking out from the gray news clouds (the financial crisis, Prop. 8 homophobia, rumors of a Led Zeppelin "reunion tour" without Robert Plant).
To remain ensconced on this positive trip, I suggest fanning your eardrums with the balmy electro tunes of Windsurf, a recent favorite of mine. The hotly tipped local duo is a partnership between Daniel Judd (aka Sorcerer) and Sam Grawe (aka Hatchback) that blurs four-on-the-floor history with a hang-ten attitude; the results are dreamy in every sense of the word.
The pair's newly released debut, Coastlines, evokes the carefree surf 'n' sand lifestyle its title suggests, with echoing synths, dubby basslines, and lush songs that stretch out to luxurious lengths. The music technically orbits the "cosmic disco" cluster – laid-back dance music that spaces out, yet stays tethered to the DJ booth. That's in part because Coastlines was released on the Internasjonal label, run by Norway's Prins Thomas – a respected name in the cosmic disco scene.
Grawe claims Coastlines isn't club-tailored ("It just might be an album for people whose record collections top the 2,000 mark," he quips) but I beg to differ. "Light as Daylight" opens with a kicky disco guitar riff on repeat, upon which moody keyboard ephemera are stacked. The languid New Romantic vocals are the only detractor, as they steer an eclectic song too quickly toward a dated '80s pop niche. "Pocket Check" was inspired by Windsurf buddies Broker/Dealer's club night, and it'd fly just as well from the turntables as it does from headphones. The track is on continual bloom, with percolating synths intersecting ambient backgrounds before the track opens into a stoned Saturday Night Fever shuffle. "We wanted to capture that late-night feeling of fantasy," Judd says of the song, "and to bring techno to a place where it met up with the soft rock sounds we love."
Soft is definitely the texture underlining much of Coastline, including its gorgeous coda, "Crystal Neon," which escapes the dancefloor to float in pools of pastel synths and the sounds of strummed harps, cascading glockenspiel, and subterranean horns. It's a magical instrumental, detailed by lift-off effects that keep your head in a celestial space throughout — like an old Alice Coltrane number laced with computerized birds and an '80s drum machine beat. Grawe explains that the idea behind the song was to take listeners on a journey, an experience he came to appreciate as a high school kid fascinated by prog rock and rock operas. He also wanted to flirt with New Age music without getting all "Windham Hill" about it. Rather, the concept was to generate a free, hazy feeling. "There's just a sort of slow, subtle evolution," he says, "like when you are watching the sun set and you barely notice that the sun itself has fallen below the horizon."
That idyllic, watch-the-sky-shift vibe is evoked throughout Coastlines right down to the CD booklet, which features snapshots of Judd and Grawe in Hawaii and Mexico. "We have made some of our best tracks right after returning from vacation," Grawe says. "If you've been, say, on a beach in Mexico surfing and eating tacos for a week ... you're going to be inspired." There's an air of leisure that resists the typical lounge kitsch. Rather, Windsurf conducts a sonic tour through what Judd describes as "tropical pop sounds of the '70s" as well as the "breezier side" of music from Japan, Germany, and Jamaica. Or, as Grawe tags it, the record is the sound of "imaginary beach discos" and "bonfire bongo jams."
Don't expect Windsurf to land from the cosmos and turn into a live act any time soon. With the complex mix of dollar-vinyl beat samples and live instrumentation that comprise Coastlines, Grawe admits they haven't mastered the in-person performance yet. "It would take a nine-piece band, I think," he says. But in the meantime, they are plenty busy, with Judd working on a new album under his Sorcerer moniker and Grawe turning out Hatchback remixes for artists from Japan to Sweden.
Regardless of how you come to visit it, though, Windsurf's astral plane is pretty sublime.