When you’re signed to a huge record company like Warner Bros. Records, you can afford to embellish all the extraneous things required of a successful band these days. Strong website, PR people to run your social media, best production money can buy, and a huge international tour if you’re so inclined. Surfer Blood breaks this mold in the kind of fashion that’s honest and accessible to music aficionados, usually younger fans, who indulge in segmenting bands into those that have sold out their roots and those who haven’t. Has anyone reading this ever NOT had this conversation? Scenes like the Warped Tour, Pitchfork Fest, and other music landscapes dominated by young, idealistic listeners are literally awash in this sentimental distinction between lame and not-lame. Surfer Blood has interesting footing in regard to this conundrum. Check their website, you’ll see tour dates and a youtube video. Check their Twitter, it’s 6 tweets from 2012. Their Facebook page saves their relevance in the blogosphere with instagram shots and routine blogging following the band along, but none of the typical big label type shtick to be found. They avoid the spotlight, culling listeners from all over the world for their deliciously infectious pop punk and surf rock production, preferring to keep to their business than involve themselves in the mainstream world. As fate would have it, though, Surfer Blood could not escape the limelight when lead singer John Paul Pitts was arrested for domestic battery in early 2012 as he was writing Pythons. Shame that one of the biggest reasons they’re known beyond their dedicated fan base is something so difficult to stomach when their surf rock hero personas have aptly kept up with the demands of their loving listeners. Whatever the case may be, it is impossible for this ordeal not to have greatly effected the creative process behind their latest album. It is a testament to the band’s resiliency that they were able to keep it together and put forth such a strong follow-up to a beloved debut.
Pythons (Warner Bros, 2013) is their second big label release and displays a nice evolution in sound for Surfer Blood. The hooks are omnipresent as ever, the chord structuring delightfully pop infused. But the vocals are cleaned up, sharper, and more focused. Lyrically the album shines with this improved clarity. The guitars have a bit more distinction from track to track. These couple improvements have led to a surf rock record with an indulgence quotient as high as any straight ahead pop, dance, or indie album this year.
This is youthful music, it’s fist-waving but on the positive side. In sound. Lyrically, the album delves into darker territory than Astro Coast and it’s kind of like the teenager’s version of Wilco: happy sounding gravity. This is cool, it’s like the bit of sour in a candy, the bit of salt in a cookie. It takes the sugary sweetness down from the stratosphere. But Surfer Blood is also careful to steer clear of the tired brooding sentiments of the emo scene by playing more overtly major chord music. They strike a nice balance for fans wishing to recall some sensibilities from their Less Than Jake and Weezer fandom days but with that touch of sophistication which keeps the album queued for days at a time.
Whatever punk inflections of Astro Coast might have persisted in Pythons were placidly left to die with the rest of the punk scene in the United States (tragically). This album relies instead on more contemporary melodic instrumentation with guitar lines played a fifth apart, bouncing bass, and middle of the road aggression on percussion. All of it leads to a stronger vocal effort and their sensibilities shine more from track to track because of it. While Pythons can fall prey to samey samey, not nearly as much as Astro Coast. They have developed a strong sense of blending linear and formulaic songwriting without running stale two albums in. Sure there’s formula in their writing, but it should be realized that in a genre relying on songwriting formula, Surfer Blood’s is just better. That’s about it.
Case Newsom | OurVinyl Senior Writer