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Surfer Blood

Astro Coast

[Kanine; 2010]

By ; January 6, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Surfer Blood are a young four-piece from Florida who find themselves in the precarious position of being one of 2010’s “bands to watch,” and I must say their timing has been brilliant. A half-decent long-player scheduled for release in mid-January will always gain praise as “one of the first great albums of the year,” and with the current near-guarantee that it will leak a good six weeks in advance, a little buzz during the release-sparse Christmas build-up can go a long way. Not that I’m suggesting these guys meticulously planned their debut album to leak in November, once the blogs and critics had already filed their copies of Merriweather Post Pavilion and Veckatimest away in a crate marked “2009.” Not at all…

Or at least I wouldn’t if so much else about this band didn’t seem so horribly contrived. First of all, there’s the name: Surfer Blood. Why the hell would any band making such surf-friendly music give themselves a moniker like that? Perhaps I’m just getting too old, and it’s so far beyond irony that maybe it is ironic in some bizarre way, but it seems as stupid as the Beach Boys calling themselves the Polar Ice Cap Boys. Then there’s the little nugget of information that keeps getting thrown about – that they played 12 times in four days at last year’s CMJ event. Fair enough, bands have to want it to make it, but talk about over-exposing yourself… Maybe I’m being too cynical, maybe I’m looking at this from an insider’s viewpoint. Maybe I should just let the music speak for itself…

At this crucial midpoint, where some readers will conclude I’ve already damned this album to a bad review, let me assure you that is not the case. There isn’t a single track on Astro Coast that I wouldn’t describe, at worst, as “interesting,” and a healthy chunk of it consists of tunes so great that if I were to hear them in, say, a clothing store, I would ask the dude at the counter who the great band playing on the stereo were. The problem is this: if they were playing the album in it’s entirety, I would ask the same question at the end of every track. And this, more so than the annoying name or hideously calculated self-promotion, is my big beef with this album.

Surfer Blood appear to have constructed every song on Astro Coast by putting the following five bands into some kind of idea generator and pressing “shuffle”: Weezer, Vampire Weekend, the Shins, Arcade Fire and Animal collective. Opener “Floating Vibes” is like AF playing a Blue Album-era Weezer Song; “Swim” is like a duet between AC and VW; “Take It Easy” is VW covered by the Shins. By the time we get to the fourth track, imaginatively titled “Harmonix”, it is almost a relief to find a straight rip-off of a single band (Arcade Fire, specifically “Laika”). And so it goes, for the rest of the album. It’s like some surreal game of musical Cluedo: “I’ve got it – Weezer melody, with Vampire Weekend guitars, in the vocal style of James Mercer!” Congratulations, you’ve worked out “Twin Peaks.”

This album makes me hate myself for being such a music snob. It makes me long for the days before the Internet when I wouldn’t necessarily have already heard all those other bands and that some small part of this album might somehow sound original. It makes me want to listen to it whilst I’m trying to put together a desk unit so that it could drift through my ears without me thinking too hard about it. Mostly, it makes me want to bang my head against a wall in frustration because, as I mentioned earlier, eight of the 10 tracks presented here are absolutely brilliant in their own right. They are well-written, produced and performed – catchy as hell and inventive when digested one at a time. It certainly hints at a bright future, providing the band can find their own identity among the others they have stolen.


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