Last year was awash with sun-soaked melodies, surf guitars and cooed love letters as from Dum Dum Girls to Wavves to The Drums, a swell of Yank bands dreamed misty-eyed of time when the hardest thing Brian Wilson had ingested was an undercooked Pop Tart and The Shangri-Las were kicking dirt at The Supremes' beehives.
West Palm Beach’s Surfer Blood released their debut, Astro Coast, as the summer love-in with pop’s golden era had just begun. Meeting at a party in Miami two years ago, lead singer JP (dubbed ‘The Mastermind’ by the rest of the band) recruited Tyler Schwarz, Thomas Fekete and Brian Black to flesh out a couple of songs he’d written. After trying to record unsuccessfully in a studio, Astro Coast was, impressively, recorded largely by JP in his dorm room during his freshman year at the University of Florida.
Taking the Beach Boys’ rich, pure harmonies and wiping a dirty sneaker stain over their freshly pressed slacks with somne Black Francis-esque riffs, Astro Coast is an enjoyable tussle between light-hearted pop and grunge guitars. Opener ‘Floating Vibes’ takes you in a warm embrace of mellow melodies, fuzzy reverb and crisp handclaps, before ‘Swim’ slaps you across the face with the blood curdling anthemic screams of “quit hanging over me!” set to no holds-barred-power-chords.
‘Take It Easy’'s rapid off-beats and near falsetto vox sugests Vampire Weekend vacationing on the West Coast, whilst ‘Fast Jabroni’ omits the exuberance of an impromptu road trip with no speed limits as a two chord stomp and strings race through to a climactic end. ‘Neighbourhood Riffs’ instrumental continues the momentum doing what it says on the tin building into a frenzy of - duh - riffs, with Black’s playful Novoselic-esque bass is the constant in the unravelling jangled madness.
But, there’s always something to ease pace on the record, to help you to catch your breath and appreciate what’s going. Stand-out track ‘Harmonix’ lacerates the valves of your heart as the gently plucked opening chords meet a lonesome drum beat that plunges into a well of echoed reverb. Closer ‘Catholic Pagans' talks of whiskey shakes and Russian brides to stuttering reverb, meandering chord progressions and angelic choral harmonies. But not all the breaks are welcomed; ‘Slow Jabroni’ is a slightly ill-fitting six minutes of fugged out blues that fractures into a completely different and better song after four minutes – the only real misstep of the record.
Talking to the band just before the release of Astro Coast in a lightly blossoming park on a cold spring evening outside the Garage, it was clear that unlike some contemporaries, Surfer Blood aren’t nostalgically re-imagining the awkwardness of growing-up, they’re still very deep in it.
Over 'Twin Peaks's playful riffs and talked overdubs reminiscent of Weezer’s ‘Undone (Sweater Song)’, JP recounts the teenage sexual frustration and the disintegration of a relationship pleading: “close contact on the couch was fine, tell me where to draw the line”. ‘Anchorage’s’ mournful guitars and sombre vocals express the crushing isolation of being stuck in a small-town as JP laments: "don’t wanna spin my wheels/ I don’t got no wheels to spin”. Like Avi Buffalo, JP has a knack of retelling those awkward teen moments without coming off overly nauseatingly twee (like, say, Best Coast’s Bethany).
Despite everything other than the drums being recorded in JP’s dorm, the record shimmers with production gloss whilst still retaining an endearing lo-fi edge. ‘Catholic Pagans’ scaling looped harmonies are as flawless as Mike Love’s and ‘Harmonix’ carefully layers different textures of sound without one overwhelming the other.
Astro Coast is a welcome reminder of the youthful vigour and playfulness of early Pavement and Weezer, imbibing the Sixties rule-book of good pop without coming off as a bad pastiche.
7Marie Wood's Score