Surfer Blood

Joyful Noise, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


1000 Palms was a dead end for Surfer Blood, a lifeless watered-down 311 album that had little in common with the band’s 2010 debut Astro Coast. It turned out to be the end of Surfer Blood Mach 1 as well; bassist Kevin Williams walked away from the group and then guitarist Thomas Fekete passed away from cancer. That trifecta from hell would be enough to sink most groups, but John Paul Pitts and the remaining company gathered their strength and soldiered on, releasing the band’s fourth album, Snowdonia, on an appropriately snowy day in early February 2017.

The immediate notice is that the hazy alt-surf-pop of the last album is gone; in its place are eight tight psych-pop songs, some that shine, some that float without much impact and several that point the way forward. There’s an emphasis on ‘60s garage pop toward the beginning of the album, particularly on leadoff track “Matter Of Time” and in the backup vocals (courtesy of new bassist/singer Lindsey Mills) scattered around the disc. These songs tend to be weaker (especially the overlong title track), a bridge to a past and probably something indie rock fans and longtime Surfer Blood fans will enjoy, but sounding somewhat outdated compared to the second half of the disc.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Starting with “Six Flags In F Or G,” though, things take a turn for the better. A cool surf-rock two-step shows a sense of fun this band isn’t really known for, which then gives way to a slower but no less arresting second section. The entire song sparkles with the personality and verve deserving of Fekete, to whom the disc (and this song in particular) are dedicated.

“Taking Care Of Eddy” shoehorns an Eastern-tinged verse into a standard Surfer Blood pop chorus, though the Beach Boys-esque midsection stands out more than the rest. “Instant Doppelgangers” is a fine midtempo garage-surf pop tune that gives way to a long instrumental coda, allowing the band some space to stretch out, while the closing “Carrier Pigeons” is as fine a jangle-pop tune as you’ll hear these days, kind of like early R.E.M. meets the Juliana Hatfield Three. Unfortunately, all the background “la-la-la”s and a confidence can’t push the song over the edge from “fine,” as it lacks a certain energy and runs on to six minutes needlessly.

Still, there are enough moments throughout the album to bring back fans turned off by 1000 Palms or, perhaps, to bring some new fans on board. If you already like Surfer Blood you’ll appreciate the nods to the past and the looks to the future. Bands in turmoil can sometimes create good music and it would appear these magnets for trouble are moving forward no matter what; Snowdonia may be a flawed first step, but it’s a necessary one, and its best moments are worth hearing.

Rating: B-

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© 2017 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Joyful Noise, and is used for informational purposes only.