Review Summary: By honing in on their talents, Surfer Blood return with a more concise and focused follow-up to their debut album. And frankly, a better one.
Surfer Blood came from out of nowhere to become music blog and critical darlings with the 2010 release of their debut album, Astro Coast
. Their music garnered them comparisons to The Beach Boys, Weezer, and Pavement (correctly), as well as being labeled (incorrectly) a part of the 'chillwave' movement that painted so many artists into a corner around that time. It was a pleasant album, but for me it fell apart when they would break into guitar freak-outs that didn't really seem to go anywhere. This is obviously a matter of personal opinion, because that aspect was praised by most fans of Astro Coast
. However, that would explain why their follow-up resonated with me in a much bigger way. With Pythons
, they've managed to trim off some of the fat, making a breezy pop album with 10 songs clocking in at just over 30 minutes.
I'll admit that when the first few songs from the album were released I remained cautiously optimistic, despite really liking them. This is because--even though I was lukewarm to it--there were definitely some gems on Astro Coast
. Tracks like "Swim", "Floating Vibes", and "Fast Jabroni" have remained on my iPod since the album was released. So while the new tracks were enough to pique my interest, I was still trying to temper my expectations. But even if I hadn't, it's safe to say this album would have met (and possibly exceeded) them. The main things they carried over from Astro Coast
, and what makes the album work so well, are the hooks. Album opener and second single "Demon Dance" begins with a a guitar line reminiscent of "Everything Flows" by Teenage Fanclub, before settling into the summery sound the band built their reputation on. However, the song pulls a trick absent from the debut, and that's mixing in some aggression toward the end. "Apologies, need apologies/We can demon dance all night" John Paul Pitts wails, before eventually coming back to the bridge and chorus one final time. It was only then that I realized that it was the first time in the song the band had utilized the Beach Boy-esque harmonizing that made them stand out from the 'chillwave' crowd in the first place. It's not a new trick--going from shouting to singing--but in the arsenal of this particular band it is. It's slightly jarring, but it works very well.
The album was produced by Gil Norton, who has worked with The Pixies, Jimmy Eat World, and Echo & The Bunnymen (among others), and his production gives a sheen to the songs without ever getting in the way. The songs sound upbeat, but never too
upbeat, which is good because underneath it all is some very dark lyricism. Take "Weird Shapes" as an example. It owes the most to early Weezer than any track on the album. And like early Weezer, it uses sugar to make the bitter easier to take. On a superficial level, it's a hummable, sing-along bit of surf-rock (that also incorporates the shouting technique from "Demon Dance). But when you give it your full attention you reveal lyrics like "It's getting late/Then the sun's going to come/Let it shine on someone else.". Or on "Gravity", when Pitts shows self-doubt with lyrics like "Guarded by a plagiarizing heart/I still can't believe you'd keep yours with me" or a simple line like "I know I can make a mess of things".
Interspersed throughout are several ballads, like "I Was Wrong", "Needles and Pins", and "Slow Six" (the only song to break the 4 minute mark). The final track, "Prom Song", manages to weave the two sounds (slow ballad and poppy surf-rock) into one, making a great closer to the album by working as a combination of the songs it follows. However, as good as the ballads are--and as necessary as they are to keep the album from becoming monotonous--it'll be tracks like "Say Yes To Me" and the aforementioned "Demon Dance" that will keep me returning to this album all summer. It's a great seasonal album despite some of the heaviness of the lyrics. By veering away from some of the excess of their debut, they've managed to get to the heart of what they've been all along: a really solid band with a knack for writing a good pop song. And Pythons
is all the better for it.