Review: Surfer Blood

June 6, 2013

It feels a bit funny breaking out Surfer Blood‘s Pythons at the start of June in Australia. The sophomore effort from the Floridian quartet quite clearly belongs to summer – not just summer, but at a beach, preferably a beach with some kind of boozy bonfire, plenty of surfers and scantily-clad teenagers experiencing young lust. It really isn’t an Antipodean winter kind of record but, here in Oz, we’re well acquainted with taking seasonal events like, say, Christmas, and making them our own Santa-in-a-cork-hat-and-boardies events.Pythons is worth treating in the same way.

Album number 2 for Surfer Blood is a less complex beast than its predecessor, Astro Coast (2010). The chord changes are more straightforward and the guitar work is less tricky and distorted. It’s almost like Surfer Blood have cleaned up their sound and distilled it down since signing with Warner, after releasing their first effort on indie label Kanine Records. The result is some incredibly catchy power pop with a good side serving of punk, which may disappoint fans of the effects-pedal-heavy, reverb-laden Astro Coast and the follow-up The Tarot EP.

Opener Demon Dance kicks things off the right way, with its sunny surf rock licks instantly taking you to that endless summer, until you pay a little more attention to the lyrics and realise frontman John Paul Pitts is singing a tale of the hounds of hell and torn limbs and organs with the ominous chorus of “Like a Pentecostal choir on Sunday / I can suck the venom out of your bones”. The lyrics wouldn’t be out of place on a metal record and the subtle juxtaposition with the upbeat tune is a sneaky winner.

Gravity and I Was Wrong continue down the same path but the album starts to falter slightly around the mediocre Squeezing Blood. There’s nothing wrong with blander tracks like this and Say Yes To Me per se, but they do leave you longing for the complexity of the band’s debut.

What Surfer Blood do win at, however, is making tunes that sound so familiar, you’re not quite sure if you’re being reminded of another band or if they’re just doing a really excellent job of triggering your nostalgia. There’s the Jimmy Eat World pop punk of Gravity, the Best Coast vocal patterns throughout, the Weezerishness of Slow Six. There’s a smattering of REM in Blair Witch and there’s a healthy lashing of Pixies influence all through the record, no doubt assisted by production from Gil Norton; the La La Love You drumbeat of Weird Shapes and Surfer Rosa-ish guitar of I Was Wrong. You’ve heard it all before, but Surfer Blood make it very much their own, taking you back to a carefree youth that you’re not even sure was yours or something you saw in a teen movie.

By the time we hit standout tracks Slow Six and closer Prom Song, there’s been enough big melody gold to leave you almost satisfied. Judged on its own merits, Pythons is a highly enjoyable slice of sun-soaked garage pop, but those who loved its older sibling first will find themselves making the comparison and, unfortunately, Pythons comes up second-best.