Sound studio

Album Review: Maine’s Kioea – Bringing the Sound of Surf Guitar Back to Life

By Jason M. Rubin

With summer on the way, the new recording of this progressive surf combo promises to make the perfect soundtrack for the season.

Jimi Hendrix couldn’t have been more wrong. In his brilliant 1967 song, “Third Stone From the Sun,” he recited this line: “You’ll never hear surf music again.” And yet, from Dick Dale to the Beach Boys via pulp Fiction, there’s something about the resonance of the surf guitar that remains compelling. It is a sound that encompasses the full range of human emotions. You can dance to it, drown your tears in it, or simply revel in the journey of each string as it goes from high-pitched plucking to resounding reverb. On the five-song EP just released by Maine/New Hampshire-based Kioea (pronounced key-oe-ah), the gently authoritative sound of frontman Carand Burnet’s surf guitars takes the listener on journeys that are clean, which fuels a desire to hear more.

Backed by bassist Ian DeCelli and drummer Jake Remignanti, Burnet paints her canvas with thick chords, laying down smooth rhythms which she then performs solo with technical skill. She also has a real talent for musical storytelling. All song titles suggest the coastal region from which they were born: ‘Black Sand Beach’, ‘Crane Feather’, ‘Dunes’, ‘Brushfire’ and ‘Black Witch Moth’. The mood of the music is consistent, regardless of tempo or dynamics: it shifts easily from rockers to ballads, from the Middle Eastern feel of “Dunes” to the psychedelic echo effects of “Brushfire.” The EP is completed with songs whose titles begin with the word “black”. The opener, with its terse intro, is decidedly sunnier than the closer, which has layers of guitar wah wah and an insistent drum beat reminiscent of the Beatles’ psychedelic classic “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Burnet founded the band in 2019 (the same year, ironically, that Dick Dale passed away). During the confinement, she made some solo recordings under the name of Angel Lake. “I used that downtime to learn how to make a home studio,” she said in an interview with the artistic fuse“and I’ve done some things using the sitar and digital sampling, but now I’m focusing on the band.”

On the band’s Bandcamp site, Burnet describes his creative process:

My artistic practice begins when I record guitar chords into a loop pedal or tape and create a backing track. I play the track and layer the notes. My goal is to create a guitar melody that acts as the voice singing each song. When I’m happy with the structure, I take the composition to my bandmates. Together, we work on dynamics and groove.

Kioea, by the way, is the name of a now-extinct Hawaiian bird, which translates to “stand”. It’s a concept that has immense meaning for Burnet, in more ways than one. When asked to name an artist who inspires her, she replies: “Alice Coltrane has always been one of my favorites, the way she presented herself as a composer and harpist, and integrated her spiritual points of view into things. She embraced more experimental music.

Kioea preserves the power of surf music. Photo: John Skewes.

Additionally, as a bandleader, Burnet aspires to be a role model for young women and non-binary musicians trying to make it in the music business. Often relegated to “playing music with guys,” she began researching women in music. She found a 2018 Fender study that showed that about 50% of guitar purchases by beginning or ambitious players are made by women; yet, in the 2019 Billboard 100, only 23% of musicians were women, and female producers made up just 2% of the list.

“Being a female bandleader and lead guitarist, I try to remember to ‘stand up’,” she says, “because I know we’re rare. I try to be a representative of this group for people who have no one to look up to.

Kioea has a few concerts scheduled: May 21, they will perform at The Thing in The Spring Music Festival in Keene, NH; and on July 1 they will be at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH. Burnet also intends to do more recordings over the next month and hope to release more material next year.

The Kioea EP is available from the band band camp site. With summer on the way, the new recording of this progressive surf combo promises to make the perfect soundtrack for the season.

Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for more than 35 years, the last 20 as a senior creative associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he won awards for his writing. He wrote for artistic fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The grave and the gaybased on a 17th century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Ancient Tales Newly Toldreleased in March 2019, includes an updated version of his first novel as well as a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason is a member of the New England Freelance Authors Collective and holds a BA in journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.