Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

Surf rock is far from new. Since its inception in the 60’s and the advent of groups like the Beach Boys and the Ventures, the smooth guitar licks and the sensual, utopian lyrics have proven to be multilaterally appealing, as evident by the constant attempts of many adoring bands towards emulation. As a result, the popular genre has since been flooded by its own popularity.

Surfer Blood do little to abate the stereotypes; be it the prancing guitar melodies, laid-back vocals, or the lyrics that muse of catching waves and girls on the beach, the band seem intent on spelling out their genre. The only difference to set Surfer Blood apart is that few have done it quite as well as them in a while. This West Palm Beach group on their debut release Astro Coast keep their music fresh and unique amid a genre that has seen nearly 50 years of creative exhaustion.

Within the first couple tracks of the record, it is not illogical to be instantly reminded of some more established acts. The dense riffs and subdued vocals on opener “Floating Vibes” are pure 90’s Built to Spill. The intense vocals and loud guitar presence on single “Swim” sound like the brightest moments of early Weezer. The popping guitar melodies and exotic percussion on “Take it Easy” could have just as easily appeared on Vampire Weekend’s Contra if the afro-rockers had displayed any interest in sounding like themselves this year. This album, at its root, sounds like nothing new; the “free-n’-easy” sound is more relaxing than challenging and the band’s influences are easily definable. However, Surfer Blood excel at blending a variety of influences without sounding like hapless imitators or over-exhausting the music’s potential with intrepid fusion exercises.

The music’s roots perhaps owe responsibility for the record’s blatant guitar-centricity. The most memorable tracks on this record, including the ones mentioned earlier but also encompassing tracks “Harmonix,” “Twin Peaks,” and “Slow Jabroni,” all feature smooth guitar licks that carry a hell of a lot of presence. The joyous rhythm on the all-instrumental track “Neighbour Riffs” proves the paragon of guitar-derived elation on the record; standing at shy over two minutes, the song’s whimsical fluttering of notes near-flawlessly captures the surf atmosphere the band markedly tried to emulate.

At times, the record, through all the joyous vocals and guitar, can prove pensive and heart-felt, such as in the love story behind “Fast Jabroni,” the self-doubting malaise depicted in “Anchorage,” or the bleak portrait of love’s convalescent powers in “Catholic Pagans.” These brief confessional moments prove nice breaks in the levity, allowing a casual glimpse or two into the darker depths of this youthful environment. Yet even despite these revealing moments, the record retains a predominant cheerful tone that is essential to the genre.

“Swim,” sitting at track number 2 in the record, is the strongest track on the record and one that will indubitably end up in the playlist of many a hipster this year. The reverb-laden vocals and rough guitar licks are a warm brush of nostalgia from the classic uplifting surf rock back in the days of the Beach Boys, but with the dramatic air of Weezer and similar 90’s alternative rock bands.

Though a solid debut, Surfer Blood will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the new works of more venerated bands, most notably Vampire Weekend with Contra or the Pixies’ and their conversation-starting reunion record allegedly intended for release later this year. Even despite the fame of its competitors, Astro Coast is worth one’s attention, even if it’s only for a listen or two. If you can find yourself able to overlook the absurdity of an album cover consisting of a picture of a shark superimposed over a picture of a shark, then you’ll also find what could be one of the year’s most precious rough gems.

Score: B-

by Mason “You take your car to work, I’ve got my board” McGough


1 Comment

  1. Site Update: New Stuff! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Surfer Blood – Astro Coast review by Mason McGough […]

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