There's plenty to like about Astro Coast, the debut LP from the youthful Floridians in Surfer Blood, but first and foremost it's a great guitar album. So what exactly does that mean these days? Often, it's a reference to either a display of astounding technical chops or innovative use of tone and texture, qualities which, to be quite honest, aren't particularly present here. This is a great guitar album in the way Weezer's Blue Album, Built to Spill's Keep It Like a Secret, or, more recently, Japandroids' Post-Nothing are: six-strings serve as a multiplier for hooks, making it every bit as easy and fun to air guitar with as it is to sing along to.
Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast is the first breakthrough indie debut of the new year, thanks to a perfect storm of forces in and out of the young band’s own control: Gaining buzz for its precocious revival of old-school indie rock after a tour-de-force showing at last fall’s CMJ Music Marathon, the Florida group has ridden the wave of blogosphere word-of-mouth to the top of its class, with glowing write-ups in Pitchfork and Stereogum whetting appetites for Astro Coast. With its first album coming less than a year into its existence, Surfer Blood has become a standard bearer of the wi-fi lo-fi era in short order. Of course, the hype wouldn’t really mean much if the band didn’t also deliver the goods.
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.
Think of Astro Coast as a good litmus test for whether critics and cursory listeners (and the many in between) are feeling prescriptive or descriptive; some of us want to change things, some of us just want to observe. Because, come on: gymnasium reverb sloshed over squiggly West-African-by-induction guitar lines, those three-note James Mercer hooks that would sound inane on a piano but world-rocking when chief songwriter John Paul Pitts belts ‘em out. In other words, Surfer Blood’s debut album is a sonic distillation of the buzzing naughts; we’ve heard it before.
Since the Feelies provided a new interpretation of the term geek rock in the late 70’s, it was destined to change the way we listen to unconventional pop. Whether it led to brainy but skilled rock n’ roll, such a term has been integral to propel immediate power pop chords and sweater shifting poses. Of course, such a sound has gone through so much change throughout the years that the seeds that it planted have lead to an ever-increasing cornucopia of subgenres.
Front to back, Surfer Blood’s debut album Astro Coast is catchy as hell, and like all catchy music, the melodies make so much sense that they sound effortless. With sturdily-constructed, semi-noodley guitar-centric rock like this the comparisons to The Shins and early Weezer are absolutely unavoidable. That’s really no big deal, though, because where I come from that’s good company.
A synthesis of all that’s prevalent in today’s all-conquering US indie-rock invasion. Chris Parkin 2010 If people still do as Blue Peter used to and plant time capsules in their garden in order to give future generations a glimpse of what life was like in ye good olde days, then Surfer Blood’s debut record is a strong candidate to represent US indie-rock right now. Not because it’s a mind-expanding example of new music, or indeed the best thing we’ve heard this year.
All the songs on Astro Coast, the 10-song debut from South Florida quartet Surfer Blood, hinge on the mighty riff. Guitarist John Paul Pitts' vocals are secondary, and the guitar compensates, weaving Built to Spill's guitar heroism into three-minute shards of pop-punk. The insanely catchy hook of "Swim (to Reach the End)" will be reeling through your head for days, the lilting, reverb-heavy titular chorus not so much anthemic as mantra-like.