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Record review: Surfer Blood – Pythons (2013, LP)

Let’s get this straight from the start: I’m a BIG fan of Surfer Blood. For me, they fill a hole that exists somewhere between when Weezer stopped being the coolest indie band around, The Strokes got lazy with their output, and the Pavement reunion died on its arse with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. The Florida quartet have only been knocking around since 2009, but in that time they have put out an outstanding debut album in Astro Coast in 2010, and a short but solid EP in 2011’s Tarot Classics.

Frontman John-Paul Pitts claimed he unwittingly became part of the lo-fi movement by virtue of his band recording their debut album on less-than-adequate equipment in his apartment. Keen to avoid being pigeon-holed as part of a movement he felt no connection to, Pitts made sure Tarot Classics was as crisp a recording as they come. Satisfyingly, Pythons has elements of both these records; although recording was crammed into a hectic eight-week period, leaving no room for experimentation, but with plenty of guitars lathered over everything the band does.

With ten tracks of around three minutes each, this could be the most perfectly-rounded guitar pop record of recent months. Opener and single ‘Demon Dance’ is classic Surfer Blood; all dual guitars, snappy choruses, and pleading lyrics. ‘Gravity’ is more Tarot Classics than Astro Coast, and gets amongst the catchiness with a much greater sense of urgency.

‘I Was Wrong’ sees Pitts in an uncharacteristically brooding mode, channelling his inner Morissey, which is followed by ‘Squeezing Blood’; a possibly dark tale masquerading as a melodic, infectiously upbeat Beach Boys-esque track.

‘Blair Witch’ isn’t as scary as it sounds, being one of the lighter tracks on the album, with Pitts declaring “the more I see love, the more I need love.” ‘Needles and Pins’ isn’t a cover of that song, but is fairly dreary all the same, while final track ‘Prom Song’ could be a talented Wheatus for the twenty-first century, and a nice way to finish the album.

Surfer Blood have always flown a bit under the radar, but if there’s at least one big single on this album, it should be enough to see them do well, although Surfer Blood don’t seem to be the type of band who would be comfortable getting “big”.

Record review: Surfer Blood – Tarot Classics (2012, EP)

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Surfer Blood main man John Paul Pitts recently claimed he unwittingly became part of the lo-fi movement by virtue of his band recording their debut album on less-than-adequate equipment in his apartment. Clearly keen to avoid a repeat of releasing something of such perceived low quality, Surfer Blood’s second release Tarot Classics immediately shows itself to be a much crisper recording. In doing so, however, Pitts has changed Surfer Blood’s sound, dragged it kicking and screaming into high fidelity, and risked alienating some of the fledgling band’s fans.

A modest release at only 4 songs and 15 minutes long, plus two remixes, Tarot Classics hints at potential Smiths-cum-Weezer indie glory, but following a recent tour in support of the latter, Pitts should be more keenly aware of the importance of a pop hook to keep his songs memorable. The problem with this EP is, while the songs are enjoyable on first listen; they are too easily forgotten.

Opener ‘I’m Not Ready’ picks up where debut album Astro Coast left off. “I’m not ready to look the other way” sings Pitts, over a deceptively-intricate guitar line.

The pace is upped on first single ‘Miranda’, its chugging guitar powering the song along, with Pitts doing his best Morrissey impression with a lyric that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Weezer album circa 1995.

‘Voyager Reprise’ slows the tempo down, its piano opening hinting at something epic, punctured by Pitts’ somewhat morose vocal, again with distinct hints of the Smiths. A stylish synth break divides the song in two before a Strokes-esque guitar riff finishes the lengthiest track on offer at 4 ½ minutes.

Closer ‘Drinking Problem’ is Tarot Classics’ highlight, and possibly the least characteristic song yet recorded by the band. Pitts’ increasingly-assured tenor sings “at least I know who my friends are,” over a simple bass/drum riff, with excellent interweaving guitar work filling out the song.

Ultimately, Tarot Classics is a fun and welcome addition to any existing Surfer Blood fan’s catalogue, even if it is unlikely to win over any new fans. Here’s hoping they can make their next full-length release as hot as their native Florida. (Kanine Records)