The four members of Surfer Blood in an odd twist of fate met at an afterparty for a music festival none of them attended. Sharing distaste for drum and bass, and perhaps bonded by the irony they were attending said party, John Paul Pitts, Tyler Schwarz, Thomas Brian, and Marcos Marchesani got together and formed a band. In the same tradition of unexpectedness, these West Palm Beach, Floridians don’t surf — yet they play songs that evoke a sense of modern day surf culture.
Surfer Blood’s debut release, Astro Coast, on Kanine Records lends to a distant underwater sound with the warbling guitar fuzz and distant tin can vocals. In the album opener, “Floating Vibes,” the guitars have a raunchy quality as they drive through the melody, and hovering above it all is Pitts’ youthful vocals. The guitars seem to trudge along with the rest of the instruments that float as if skidding across the surf. This is a fantastic opener to an album rife with catchy hooks. Setting the bar so high, so early on might be a risky move, but the album as a whole and doesn’t leave anything more to be desired, nor dwarf the stunning lead track.
If safety begets perfection, then the standout single, “Swim,” hits the mark. Anthemic, tuneless shouting, and the fist-pumping chorus, rarely stray from the formula that once made Weezer’s Blue Album a success, and seems to be precisely why reviews have flocked to this reference to float on. However, “Swim” on its own sounds little like anything from The Blue Album, and strangely reminds me of it at the same time.
It’s hard not to make all kinds of beach-going, watery references, given Surfer Blood’s roots and name, but the music brings about the imagery to make it relevant and not derivative. The tune most revealing of their surf music influence, “Catholic Pagans,” reveal in the lyrics deeply personal issues related to drugs and romantic relationships. Also invoking Surfer Blood’s more introspective side, “Anchorage” is heavier, and JP takes a dourer tone as he sings about a place quite opposite from his home town. “Neighbour Riffs” acts as an interlude eking by the two minute mark, but shows off Surfer Blood’s technical prowess.
Following suit to most indie-core this day and age, Surfer Blood break out the syncopated West African guitar lines, but it’s like they took a Vampire Weekend to the Ivory Coast. Surfer Blood kicks it up a notch, the simplistic guitar styling, fuzzy background noise, and syncopated rhythm makes you want to get up and dance.
The album invokes a sense of the familiar, but there’s a Surfer Blood spin on what’s lingering at the tip of your tongue. They do it well enough to seem celebratory of their influences. This is a great introduction to an intriguing young band. Rather than wonder about their influences, and dwell on originality, I’ll take Astro Coast at face value, and enjoy every last bit.
Since having stepped out into the indie-world’s consciousness at CMJ 2009, they have been generating buzz and keeping the fan base in the know, actively updating Twitter posts and blogging, and they’re MySpace page shows they’ve hit the ground running with nonstop touring all over the U.S. Can’t wait to catch them when they swing back to Seattle on April 4 at the Vera Project.
The last time they were in town, they stopped by KEXP for an in-studio performance — from that session, here’s “Anchorage”: