Review Summary: Astro Coast sounds like an honest representation of four gifted songwriters writing what they know and how they know it. Sounds pretty good.
Surfer Blood open their album thusly: “Forget the second coming / I need you in the here and now / instead of dreamin’ up a way to spread your name / across the world somehow.” Kind of regressive thinking, isn’t it? Putting aside the insistence on nostalgia-tinged genres that flourished within certain critical circles, didn’t we spend a good chunk of last year getting to know fresh-faced youths eager to blow this popsicle stand, live a life post nothing? The greatest city-in-the-rearview anthem of the year was called “The Boys Are Leaving Town” by Japandroids, garage rock by two guys that pummeled like fifty, so full of potential were they. Sustained a whole album on that fervor alone. Wavves wanted it, Cymbals Eat Guitars scored it, Girls-- well, they wanted sex and maybe that old life, but leaving town might have been beneficial. So much attention to the thought of a better future that for those of us willing ourselves to leave town and are forced to stay (by the natural conventions of life that function before these songs existed and after they’re digitally erased) find the sentiment downright depressing: where’s the kid that understands what it means to stay?
The vibe Astro Coast
is going for will sound familiar to anyone who has padded out his music collection with the more easily recognizable mid-90s era indie rock (Pavement, Built to Spill, some easy Weezer comparisons), but its slick production blankets detailed layering, memorable vocal/music dynamics, and a humble intelligence smartly sidelined in lieu of a riff-laden gold-mine. It recalls the paranoid spark of Modest Mouse, the subtle production tricks that draw out the melody at its core, creating substance where the band could easily ride on what’s so noticeably fun. Singer John Paul Pitts paints a picture of that teenage life we seem to dread living through but miss when it’s gone; the upside here being Astro Coast
is set on defining the very age it’s celebrating. All nods to classic material or recent fads are bits of inspired affectations that stand out in the more obvious of ways: the breathless Lilys structure to opener “Floating Vibes”; afro-beats on “Take it Easy”; distorted wordplay that would impress Isaac Brock on “Slow Jabroni” (not to mention its twee-bent companion “Fast Jabroni”). Otherwise, Astro Coast
sounds like an honest representation of four gifted songwriters writing what they know and how they know it. What they know is a refreshing change of pace for the indie rock narrative: an extrovert letting you know he hates this town too, yet he still has fun with you.
From the opening bars of “Floating Vibes”, Surfer Blood’s surfer rock feels of-the-moment. Its knowing advice (“If you’re moving out to the west / then you better learn how to surf”; “If you’re going to do then do it / otherwise you just might lose your nerve”) speak of universal truth, regardless of age. The muscular group chanting and deceptive forward momentum of its two-chord guitar lead on first single “Swim” bely the age necessary to blare the car stereo: I dare all to stay immune to one of the album’s more prophetic declarations (and catchiest): “SWIM! TO REACH THE END
!” A budding relationship, a flurry of emotion, is romantically portrayed in “Take it Easy”, providing one of the most honest blends I’ve seen of African pop influence into a defiantly rock song, one that sounds very much like Surfer Blood. In fact, it remains one of the album’s more precious artifacts, the kind of smart, tough love song that earns its shaggy upbeat demeanor (and may save a few hearts down the line). Once Pitts has set up his “live life now” ideals effectively, his turn to other matters- of the heart, of David Lynch, an instrumental just to jam- are the detours that end up being most fascinating.
“Neighbour Riffs” barely breaks the two-minute mark but the length helps contain too many good riffs to simply expound; they lucidly gush out, as they tend to do in jam sessions the track is so obviously emulating, like a water hose into a flower bed. These are the guys I’d crack a beer with: a pop rock song that references being an elitist, Blue Velvet
, and David Lynch that is not
pretentious? A gold star from this guy. How about that drone noise that starts to sag down the middle of “Anchorage” like a sprightly Sonic Youth toying with structure? I might learn music theory just so I can gush more about what floats around this imperfect collage. Closer “Catholic Pagans” deserves more paragraph than I’m willing to give. Astro Coast
is an album that sounds its age, just irrevocably more self-aware and happier for it. Mike Love once said of introverts on Pet Sounds
’ “I Know There’s An Answer”: “They trip through their day / and waste all their thoughts at night.” Astro Coast
goes a long way to rectify that, and the influence of this band and their sentiments, and all the years and bands and friends and first loves and regrets and lives to follow that helped to shape the four members of Surfer Blood that came to create Astro Coast
, it all dissipates into the glowing center of this simple, innocuous treat.
Did I mention the Obama reference?