Sunday, January 24, 2010

Surfer Blood *Astro Coast* Review

I suspect the boys of Surfer Blood have never met a guitar riff they didn't like. Their debut album, Astro Coast, is chockablock with big riffs, so many that some chord progressions inevitably veer into the territory of outright homage (or plagiarism, depending on your views on the matter) before abruptly shifting course. (I heard similarities to Bill Withers, Tears for Fears, and the Sure-Flo song from A Mighty Wind, of all things.)

Astro Coast hangs together, and largely succeeds, because of its excess and bigness. The album's breakout single, "Swim," is the perfect example. Lead singer John Paul Pitts' open-throated vocal is reverberated almost to the point of absurdity, while the bombastic pound of the drums threaten to blow out your speakers, and melodies don't get any bigger than its anthemic chorus. Like the surf rock that inspires the album's sound, the song should be ridiculous, but somehow all the elements come together to transcend their seeming flaws.

The rest of Astro Coast's songs don't reach the giddy heights of "Swim," but they come pretty close. The muscular "Floating Vibes" kicks off the album with aplomb, complete with hand claps and a classic surf-rock bass line. "Take It Easy" features a slinky chorus, and its syncopated beat, which is clearly indebted to Vampire Weekend, begs to be danced to. The excellent instrumental, "Neighbor Riffs," which bears more than a passing similarity to the Allman Brothers' "Jessica," is as good as that song form gets.

A number of critics have described Astro Coast as an update of Weezer's classic, Pinkerton. Lyrically, this is undoubtedly true, and it's especially evident in the sexual frustration of "Twin Peaks." But melodically I see more of a connection to the guitar-driven dance pop of Stone Roses' self-titled debut, though Surfer Blood's music is punchier, and sprightly in ways the Stone Roses never were. Tracks like "Harmonix" and "Slow Jabroni," if not directly influenced by the Roses, are closer to the "Madchester" sound than Weezer's proto-emo.

For all of its strengths, and there are many, Astro Coast almost paints Surfer Blood into a corner. The ephemeral nature of its primary influences can't sustain a redo for the band's second album. What remains to be seen is whether Surfer Blood can endure as surely as they endear here on their debut.

My review is also now up on Sputnik Music.