out January 19th
It’s difficult to define Surfer Blood’s debut, Astro Coast, by anything other than track two, the powerhouse anthem “Swim.” “Swim” is tailor-made for giddy blogs, iPod commercials, and summer car rides. It’s such a tour-de-force, such a dominating, stand-out jam that it threatens to make the rest of the album blend together into nine tracks of anonymity.
Which could've been the case, if those other nine tracks weren't so good. Providing a consistent, well-crafted, traditional indie rock album, Surfer Blood proves to be more than a one-hit wonder, more than a buzz-and-bust blog band. Just as Passion Pit proved doubters wrong with an album of 10 tracks just as good as (if not better than) “Sleepyhead,” Astro Coast is an energetic, strong debut from the Florida rockers.
Unlike Passion Pit's Manners, however, Coast is more solid than superlative, more good than great. Alongside ten new tracks, “Swim” still stands out as Surfer Blood's best song (while for many Passion Pit fans, “Sleepyhead” is now an afterthought). But many tracks off of Coast do pick up the slack. Album opener “Floating Vibes” glides along with subtly grand, fuzzed-out guitar chords. It’s a chill song, one that manages to distinguish its style from the anthemic nature of “Swim” but also maintains the summery, Free Energy-based feel the band conveyed from the start with hand-claps and catchy hooks.
As Pitchfork notes in its review, Astro Coast - despite the strong voice of lead singer John Paul Pitts and its frequent sing-along refrains - is at its heart a true guitar album. Two-minute cuts like “Neighbour Riffs” show that Surfer Blood is perfectly fine with this, taking guitar chords and refusing to ruin them with punchy vocals and forced melodies, instead letting them speak for themselves as long as they can last.
But Surfer Blood is undeniably good at those punchy vocals and rolling melodies, with “Twin Peaks” showing those off to the fullest and even allowing Paul Pitts to show off some of his polished vocal antics and front-man prowess (bringing up plenty of Rivers Cuomo comparisons in countless other reviews) as well. The band starts to give off the image of a cleaned-up Titus Andronicus, with more accessible, radio-ready hooks, and a smoother-voiced front-man. But Pitts does let go once in a while, and he does so memorably on “Peaks,” with a wail that would make, well, Titus Andronicus proud.
Toward the album's end, Surfer Blood stack together two songs well over six minutes. The first, “Slow Jabroni,” is fuzzy and not too fun for its first half. But it does pick up some excellent steam as it reaches its climax. The second, "Anchorage," sounds more like the rest of the album from the get-go, and also builds memorably around midway through. But as the ninth song on an album full of grungy, crunchy guitar melodies, it does feel a tad repetitive. Still, while neither of these songs are the epics that Surfer Blood wants them to be, they are good enough to prove that the band can “escape the confines of three-minute power-pop," as Pitchfork's Ian Cohen says.
But then "Catholic Pagans" comes on, a 3:13 ditty that follows the standard format of: soft intro, catchy chorus, guitar melody, chorus, concluding set of "oh-oh-ohs." And you know what? When "three-minute power-pop" is this good, I don't know if I want Surfer Blood to bother escaping its confines at all.