Sound Choices

Alex Schaaf

In yet another case of a tragic misunderstanding, when I first heard of Surfer Blood, I assumed it was part of the “west coast lo-fi” movement, one that spawned bands like Wavves – not exactly my favorite group ever.
So I let the band go for a couple months, even though its name kept popping up in impressive places – being featured as Best New Music on Pitchfork, receiving features in Rolling Stone, Paste and other noteworthy publications.
Then finally, last week I found my way back to Surfer Blood and its debut album “Astro Coast,” and I’m glad I did.
Rather than dealing with lo-fi fuzziness, Surfer Blood, based out of Florida, is a guitar rock band, drawing instant comparisons to such heavyweights as Pavement or Dinosaur Jr.
The Pavement comparison made sense to me, as the laidback swagger of both the guitars and the vocals made me think of Stephen Malkmus and crew right away. But the more I investigated, the more I was able to set that comparison aside and focus on Surfer Blood as its own distinct entity.
“Astro Coast,” Surfer Blood’s debut LP, was released in January on Kanine Records – it was out last year in the U.K. – and it is a solid album from beginnig to end. There are a few missteps and lulls here and there, but overall a high level of energy is ignited with opening track “Floating Vibes” and is maintained throughout.
“Floating Vibes” is one of the standout tracks from the album, and is perhaps the most Pavement-like of the bunch. The lyrics from singer John Paul Pitts focus on bidding farewell to a friend who is leaving Florida for the west coast, telling him, “I wasn’t disappointed at all / ‘Cause you’ll be back again.”
This theme is echoed throughout “Astro Coast,” where conflict and anxiety is met by a self-assured swagger, but one that never seems rock solid.
The second track is “Swim,” which was their breakout single last year, and one that deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. Waves of reverb envelop the crunchy guitar riffs and catchy melodies, as Pitts wonders, “On whom can you depend?” before deciding to “swim to reach the end.”
Throughout the rest of the album, the group mixes in these upbeat rockers with more contemplative tracks like “Slow Jabroni,” a slower, fuzzed-out builder, and “Anchorage,” a nostalgic longing for escape, in which Pitts assures us that once we’ve gotten away from this mess, “we’ll be alright, I know.”
The album is not perfect, as seen in tracks like “Harmonix,” which reaches almost to the five-minute mark and yet fails to reach any sort of satisfactory peak.
“Take It Easy,” with a Vampire Weekend-esque opening, is pleasant enough, but feels a little too light in comparison to the rest of the album.
Surfer Blood gains major points back by making reference to David Lynch in “Twin Peaks,” as a tale of sexual frustration is built around watching Lynch’s television series on a couch in Syracuse and renting his film “Blue Velvet.” Pitts sings, “Why is everything a chore?” and “if I’d known all your ghosts / I never would have come so far.”
Overall this is a very impressive debut album, and one that seems to be much more thought-out and well constructed than some other buzzed-about albums of the past few months.
I wouldn’t quite put Surfer Blood anywhere near the ranks of Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. – yet. Give them a few more years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them nearing that level of critical praise.