REVIEW: Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Zach Hart Friday, January 22, 2010
Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Release Date: January 19th, 2010
Label: Kanine Records
There is an obvious plan of attack when reviewing Astro Coast: use as many intelligent and witty surfer analogies as possible. And why not? You hear the band is from Palm Beach, Florida. You see “surfer” in their name. I’m sure you will read plenty of reviews that make mention of waves and beaches and oceans and good ole summer fun. I guarantee you that somewhere, somehow Beach Boys comparisons are going to find their way in as a comparison to Surfer Blood.
I feel it is important (at least for me) to sort of squash these ideas and metaphors before they really start. You see, I know nothing about surfing…I’ve never even touched a surfboard in my life. If what is said about the band is true then not only do they not surf but they also did not like the surfer kids of their younger days. Let me be honest—when I first heard the name “Surfer Blood” I didn’t think of a band that had salt water pumping through their veins; I assumed they were some sort of rock or punk act. What about the gaping maw of a shark on their album cover? Not exactly a sight a laid back surfer dude will want to see. Needless to say when I went into my first listen of Astro Coast I was not expecting the obvious.
More than anything I want to acknowledge the one “unfortunate” aspect of this album and that lies with the second track “Swim”. Months before the release of the debut, “Swim” came out as a single and even got the honor of getting one of Pitchfork’s best singles of 2009. The song really does have it all: the vocals that stir up the Beach Boys comparisons, the guitar chords reminding us of the better times of the glory days of bands like Weezer, and enough lo-fi goodness to rattle your bones. The track even hints at the recent “chillwave” movement that has been spreading like crazy through the indie music scene. None of this is really unfortunate per se but one might get the impression that the rest of the album might follow suit (or, even worse, that nothing can compare to the single’s promise).
But it was as I listened to each track on Astro Coast that I realized how great the album actually is; not only because of how good its ten tracks are but how it completely demolished all my expectations. “Floating Vibes” opens the album and is (at least on my end) the most surf song out of the entire album with the line, “If you’re moving out to the west, then you better learn how to surf.” But it is here the album catches you, right at the beginning and I promise it really won’t let you go. The tropical influenced “Take It Easy” puts you in a bright mood and takes you to another coast completely. The David Lynch inspired “Twin Peaks” provides vocals that even a Cursive fan would love. By the time track seven, “Fast Jabroni”, comes around a lot of different styles have come into play; I mean…there is even an instrumental track.
It is when “Slow Jabroni” comes around that your ears tune into something different. The six minute track changes the pace to a slower one resulting in a climax that any fan of shoegaze would love. Sometimes it can be a bit disorienting to have an album change like this on you—and can even result in a bit of its collapse. However, Astro Coast does not suffer from this. Surfer Blood takes the promise of “Swim” and cuts it open and takes each element that makes that song great and makes nine other songs that are just as good (and some that are better). Track by track the band makes a song that either hooks or gently coaxes you in. In a way the album does feel awkwardly paced, especially when considering how energetic two thirds of it is and then how downplayed the last part can feel. Yet, when I think about how a band can still sound good but not actually different as the album plays on, it makes me so very pleased by this debut.
One last thing of note: the middle of January feels like a bizarre time to release such an album. Because, in the end, Surfer Blood makes an album that is warm and an album that might just make you see beaches and waves when you close your eyes and open your ears. I image one might liken the swell and calm of this album to be reminiscent of a day in the sand and next to the water. The sun rises, the surf is up. The sun goes down, the surfers pack up for the day. But like any good surfer will go back for more, you will come back for repeated listens.