While many attribute Surfer Blood’s name to the group’s surf-rock sound, their easygoing, sanguine style suggests the second half of their name may not be totally irrelevant either. Because — in addition to its poetic and literary meaning, “blood-red” — “sanguine” is also defined as “cheerfully optimistic,” which pretty much sums up the tone of their debut album, Astro Coast. (Or the group may have just despised surfers, which could easily be interpreted from the giant, teeth-baring shark’s mouth on the album cover. But just go with it.)
Astro Coast kicks off with one of its best tracks, “Floating Vibes,” which hits you with a lively drumbeat and a deep, thumping bass line that hooks you in the first few seconds. Don’t be fooled by the lyrics: “If you’re movin’ out to the west / Then you’d better learn how to surf.” This isn’t the 21st century’s recreation of The Beach Boys. Although plenty of people have compared their musical style to the famous 1960s surf-pop group, Astro Coast focuses on love and loss, rather than California girls and surfin’ USA.
Surfer Blood hail from West Palm Beach, Fla., are signed to Kanine Records and have toured with such successful indie groups as Art Brut and Japandroids. Their heavy use of distortion and effects pedals combines with catchy and simple guitar sequences to form their own fusion-genre of surf-rock, shoegaze and pop with a garage-rock rawness. Astro Coast’s way of overlapping these catchy, simple guitar sequences is one of its most defining characteristics, and vocals take a back seat to this instrumentation — so much so, actually, that one of its best tracks, “Neighboring Riffs,” doesn’t even include vocals. The drumbeat and bass form the engine that powers the album’s tracks, while the guitars actually do the driving, ultimately controlling and guiding the sound with plenty of repetition and echoing effects.
All except one of the songs (“Slow Jabroni”) are fast-paced and upbeat, though Surfer Blood enjoy deceptively beginning at a slow pace and later kicking it into overdrive with their signature powerful, bouncy rhythms, such as in “Harmonix.” Though “Swim,” the group’s 2009 debut single, earned praise from such music critics as Pitchfork — it made 37th in Pitchfork’s “100 Best Songs of 2009” — it’s hardly the best of the album. “Take It Easy” takes the spotlight with a playful melody and more cowbell than drums, and could be confused with Vampire Weekend if it weren’t for the vocal distinction. And “Anchorage” has an addictive, cymbal-heavy beat and laid back melody that can only leave you feeling happy.
Surfer Blood doesn’t seem too concerned with developing a single, unifying style, which is admirable in a way, but also unfortunately leaves Astro Coast feeling a bit disjointed. Nevertheless, the group’s debut album is highly enjoyable and really only leaves me wanting one thing: a second one.
- Surfer Blood, from West Palm Beach, is: John Paul Pitts (vocals/guitar), Tyler Schwarz (drums), Tom Fekete (guitar/vocals) and Brian Black (bass/vocals).
- Astro Coast is available on Kanine Records’ website for $9.99 (CD) or $12.99 (LP).
- Surfer Blood plays Lincoln Hall tonight! Tickets are $15.
“Floating Vibes” official music video