Review Summary: ”Pythons” is a more mature and emotionally charged album that proves Surfer Blood is capable of far more than they previously led us to believe.
If Surfer Blood’s laid-back 2010 debut “Astro Coast” was representative of a chilled-out summer, then “Pythons” is the more serious and less sunny autumn that follows. While “Astro Coast” suffered from inconsistency -- with filler tracks obscuring the handful of phenomenal indie pop songs -- every track of “Pythons” packs an emotional punch that will keep listeners enthralled throughout its 34 minute run time. Occasionally, a run time this short can detract from an album, but here it only enhances the experience. It’s easier to listen to the record over and over until every nook and cranny is explored.
Gone are the optimistic and lighthearted pieces in the vein of “Floating Vibes” and “Twin Peaks.” In their place stand 10 cohesive tracks that demonstrate Surfer Blood’s progression from indie pop to indie rock that is only occasionally tinged with pop elements. It’s not that Surfer Blood completely abandoned the sound established on “Astro Coast” -- just listen to the catchy and upbeat “Gravity” for proof of that. Observe closely enough and little bits and pieces of the band’s old sound can be found scattered throughout the new release, like the inherently catchy opener of “Squeezing Blood” and the scattered guitar solos of “Prom Song.”
Nonetheless, “Pythons” is very different from its predecessor. This album is a weighty affair filled to the breaking point with anger, sadness, and confusion. While their previous release sounded like four friends making music because they wanted to, “Pythons” sounds as though it was made because the band needed to. This may have been influenced by a regretful period in the life of singer John Paul Pitts, who recently served a brief stint in jail following the alleged battery of his girlfriend.
“Looked in the mirror today / Then I got scared away / … / Oh I need love / Cause I can’t guilt it, never forgive myself,” croons Pitts on the remorseful “Blair Witch.” However, changes in lyrics and subject matter are not all Surfer Blood altered.
Most apparent is the addition of screamed verses on many of the songs. During the cynical fourth track, “I Was Wrong,” Pitts briefly transforms his delicate voice into a guttural scream to demonstrate the pain of a relationship gone sour. The screams are spaced out perfectly throughout the album, reminding the listener of the catharsis that went into this record without it grating. Aggressive guitar work also shapes this new sound to great effect. The frantic opening chords of “Weird Shapes” set the tone for the twisted love song that follows. The best results come on songs like “Demon Dance” and “Say Yes To Me,” where uplifting choruses and guitar riffs blend seamlessly with the band’s newfound angst and anger.
The record’s brevity and anger issues might dissuade some fans of Surfer Blood’s last album from checking it out, but “Pythons” is likely the beginning of a deeper and all-around better indie rock band. Not only does Surfer Blood dance with demons, the band makes beautiful music that is poignant and a pleasure. Don’t miss it.