There’s more ‘surfer’ than ‘blood’ in Surfer Blood’s new album and that’s probably a good thing. Surf music is the quintessential pop genre: the perfect mix of sugary hooks, sunny lyrics, and go-go breakdowns to let your inner Gidget run wild. The foursome from Florida have taken the best of this genre – Dick Dale, the Beach Boys, and nouveau-surf, from the Pixies (QRO live review) to Weezer (QRO live review) – and repackaged it into the pleasing little gem Astro Coast.
“Floating Vibes” and “Twin Peaks” show Surfer Blood in top form. Crisp guitar melodies, sprightly percussion, and slightly smirking lyrics (“my lover’s a carnivore”) weave into a tapestry of broken hearts, wandering eyes, and making out on couches. The songs on Astro Coast narrate the minutia of adolescent trauma in precious detail. That may or may not be your cup of tea – in any case, the brooding narratives sometimes distract you from how beautifully the instrumentation props up the melodrama. The one pure instrumental of the album, “Neighbor Riffs”, is an absolute delight. Dick Dale-esque guitar surfs over waves of snares and breezy chords: the perfect summer ditty.
Despite all the good vibes, the vocals of Astro Coast may begin to wear you down. None of Surfer Blood’s influences were really known for outstanding voices, and Surfer Blood certainly doesn’t reinvent this particular wheel. If you think about it, even the Beach Boys’ voices were run-of-the-mill if you subtract the ingenious polyphonic harmonies. On songs “Anchorage” and “Slow Jabroni” the lead singer actually sounds bored with his own voice. Just another reason to fill out the next album with more of the great, vocal-free instrumentals.
You will walk away from Astro Coast with a few keeper songs on your brain and the suspicion that there’s a lot more in store for this band. The pleasing but by-the-numbers songs are reminiscent of Radiohead’s Pablo Honey in the sense that they adhere to convention so successfully that it’s almost a strike against the band. Not that Surfer Blood is the next Radiohead (QRO album review), but there is certainly a personality waiting to emerge, and Astro Coast already proves they have the raw tools to make it happen. The most beautiful song of the album, “Catholic Pagans”, digs down past the surfer snark to combine heartfelt emotion with their signature beach bum textures. A winning combination, and hopefully a sign of things to come.