Tag Archives: Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood ‘Snowdonia’ – Review

10 Mar

Surfer Blood were once gloriously unencumbered by complication. Their music first gained kudos in the beautiful summer of 2010 when their lo-fi pop-rock singled them out as a young Weezer for the chill-wave generation. For a hot minute it looked like they might actually fulfill that ambition as well. Debut album, ‘Astro Coast’ owned the hyped and its follow up e.p ‘Tarot Classics’ upped the stakes and polished the grimy surface. Nobody was surprised when they then signed to a major label and were earmarked to work with Gil Norton – this was wish fulfilment aligning with common sense.

Then the proverbial hit the fan. Big time. In a series of events that still aren’t entirely clear, lead singer John Paul Pitts was accused of domestic battery. The charges were contested and later dropped but that kind of fog doesn’t clear easily. The controversy was increased by songwriting and posturing that seemed tone deaf to potentially ackward implications – a boy flexing his muscles on the album cover, lyrical references to being ‘true blue’ and ‘squeezing blood’ etc. Things went from bad to much worse last year when guitarist Thomas Fekete tragically lost his battle with Cancer. It’s understandable that with all this STUFF, their music gets somewhat ignored.

If all this feels like a whole tonne of context then that’s because new album ‘Snowdonia’ is pretty much all context. You can’t escape your preconceptions of what Surfer Blood have done or what they’ve become. But if you’re expecting new album ‘Snowdonia’ to be one long apologia then you’re going to be pleasantly surprised/disappointed. This music tries so hard to return to the band’s unfussy roots that any background details feel somehow lose significance. ‘Snowdonia’ is a breezy listen, clocking in at just over half an hour, it contains the warmest melodies and stickiest hooks Surfer Blood have recorded since their post debut e.p.

On ‘Frozen’ Pitts seems to burn the type of major label execs they must have encountered at Warner Bros. ‘Roll your sleeves to show off your tattoos/ He’s great friends with Seymour Stein, I never knew’. That whole experience didn’t end well for the group and they address that disappointment as well: ‘And in an instant everything was lost, Seems like somebody got their wires crossed.’ But the song ends positively: ‘Your free trial is ending soon, either way it won’t stop the birds from singing.’ The song’s breezy tone and laid back melody match this positive outlook that is consistent through the album. Even on the elegiac ‘Burning flags in F and G’, Pitt’s processes his grief through euphoric remembering of past glories.

The album does lack some of the qualities that their debut had in spades – urgency and an emphatic sense of purpose. But then those qualities can so often boil over into aggression – something no doubt Pitts Is doing his best to steer clear of these days. And so ‘Snowdonia’ has all the temper of warm bath. It’s gentle, sixties inspired guitar licks and sunny day harmonies hint at renewed calmness in the face of understandable anxiety and grief. The lyrics are somewhat less ambiguous in laying out Pitts aims. Album opener states “In a world so full of murky intentions, we’ll make ourselves a home.” He’s largely true to that promise and carves out a quietly interesting space in a field of homage indie rock acts.

It’s therefore ironic, or perhaps fitting, that a band who have made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years should make such a modest and unfussy record. ‘Snowdonia’ may not live up to what we once hoped for from this band but it’s a whole lot better than we might have anticipated just a couple of years ago. In 2017 it sits quite nicely on its own terms, freed from the shackles of the band’s past and uninterested in making ambitious promises for the future. In that sense it’s the first Surfer Blood album not to make forward glances or backward stares. It simply is what it is – A laid back and enjoyable rock record at a time when those are increasingly scarce.



Surfer Blood ‘Tarot Classics’ E.P – Review

18 Nov

Nearly two years on from the release of their acclaimed debut, ‘Astro Coast’, Surfer Blood are back on a bigger label and with a bigger sound. Signing to Warner Brothers was a gutsy move and this ambition is reflected on this new four track e.p. It’s hard a hard record to judge – we don’t really know if these songs are a farewell letter from the past (before they take us down a completely different path) or a sign of what we can expect from the full length. One thing we can say with certainty is that they’ve cleaned up their sound considerably; they’ve stripped away the fuzz that muddied the debut and replaced it with glitzy, expensive production. It really compliments the group’s songs, which have always been built around bright melodies and poppy harmonies, just as much as distorted riffs. The tunes are still riff heavy, but now they wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a radio playlist.

‘Classics’ begins with the song most closely related to the ‘Astro Coast’ numbers and ends with the one that sounds most like a change in direction. Track one is a sludgy rocker called I’m Not Ready’, a song notable for sounding  like it was  influenced just as much by The Smiths as it was by prominent early influences, Weezer and The Beach Boys. The fact that they still sound like they’ve been sitting on a Californian beach for the past six months, working on their tan, betrays the fact that, yes, we’re still listening to Surfer Blood. ‘Miranda’ comes next (It’s a song that’s been floating around for a while) and it really ups the ante. The catchy hook might be their best yet and the production really lets you hear the perfectly arranged instrumentation. 

‘Voyager Return’ is denser than anything they’ve released before but it’s layered in a really interesting way – You don’t feel like they’re plodding along during these slower moments, an impression I got on their debut. Pitts voice (once a delicate and quivery thing) is now deeper and more steady, he is able to hit the right notes more capably and there is ambition in where he takes the melodies. ‘Drinking Problem’ closes things, and it might be the best song on here. Just as ‘Astro Coast’ closed with ‘Catholic Pagan’, a tender ode to sobering up for the girl you love, ‘Drinking Problem’ also deals with putting past indulgences and past mistakes to one side. It’s as if Surfer Blood are cleaning out their closets, preparing us for their inevitable charge on the mainstream.

I hate the word mature, and what it implies; Yes, Surfer Blood have made a more sophisticated, complicated, diverse and…grown up record, but they certainly haven’t lost their sense of fun. They made their name with the blog friendly anthem ‘Swim to Reach the End’, in which they combined distorted, reverb heavy verses with a stadium sized chorus and a bridge breakdown that was frankly ridiculous, but amazing, in this context. ‘Tarot Classics’ retains that mixture of indie cool, ambition and sheer laughs. At four tracks long, and clocking in under 15 minutes, this is hardly a substantial statement of intent, but its a nice reminder that one of last year’s best new bands are more than capable of outliving the hype machine.


Surfer Blood ‘Miranda’

31 Aug

A new song from the always entertaining Surfer Blood. It’s taken from their forthcoming e.p ‘Tarot Classics’.

Surfer Blood ‘Floating Vibes’

8 Sep

If you haven’t already got Surfer Blood’s debut album ‘Astro Coast’ then get it now, it’s great! Their new single is called ‘Floating Vibes’ and the video is too cool for school

Surfer Blood ‘Astro Coast’ – Review

5 Jun

{NOTE: If you get deja-vu after reading this then that is because I first published this review in January, when the album was released in the USA. At long last ‘Astro Coast’ is getting a UK release so I have re-uploaded the review, with some slight changes.}

The name ‘Surfer Blood’ implies anger. It implies danger. It implies surfing. actually ‘Astro Coast’ is neither angry, dangerous or about surfing (though it is mentioned once or twice in the lyrics). ‘Astro Coast’ is in fact a rather straight-forward and enjoyable alt-pop debut that destroys your preconceived expectations.

If you’re aware of this band at all it will probably be for their single ‘Swim’ that featured on many end of year lists in December (including mine). The song is a Weezer-esque, reverb heavy TUNE (capital letters essential) that is still easily the best thing the band has done. The song that comes closest to matching ‘Swim’ in brilliance is the album’s closing statement ‘Catholic Pagen’. There is a lot less feedback on this track and it has more of a traditional indie sound with hints of doo wop in the guitar.

Other highlights include ‘Floating Vibes’, ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Fast Jobroni’ (it’s brother ‘slow jabroni’ is a bit of a slog). These tracks all display a knack for both melody and massive riffs, a combination that’s becoming harder to find in modern music. Their lo-fi rivals are all making fairly twee pop songs, whilst their touring buddies The Drums (who they have been compared to) are nowhere near as in your face – Surfer Blood have the confidence to turn out guitar songs with attitude.

The album flows well despite touching upon many genres and styles. At times they really let loose with the feedback and reverb whilst they aren’t afraid to use strings and synths to add colour if required. occasionally they let the music drag and when this happens things become a bit stale. ‘Anchorage’ is six minutes of nothing that shouldn’t be on here whilst a handful of these songs could benefit from a bit of editing. ‘Slow Jabroni’ gets brilliant in the final couple of minutes, but to reach the climax you will have to listen to four minutes of barely audible vocals and droning guitars; It makes you wonder if it was worth it.

‘Astro Coast’ is slightly unambitious yet very well executed, a bit dreary in parts yet gloriously euphoric most of the time. The riffs are a bit predictable, the lyrics are traditional fare and the reverb is a bit too try hard. But overall ‘Astro Coast’ is a more than pleasing, memorable debut. They may not set turntables alight just yet, but this is a warm slice of indie fun for what will no doubt be another dreary UK summer.