Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Record label: Kanine Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
On their 2010 debut, Surfer Blood hit indie-pop nirvana a few times, notably on the African-guitar-spiked "Swim." This EP goes three-for-four, packing so many familiar hooks and devices, geeks may want to footnote them. The Smiths' tuneful melodrama ("I'm Not Ready") and the Pixies' guitar sugar rush ("Miranda") loom large. But John Paul Pitts' preppy tenor is coming into its own, especially on the tongue-tied confession "Voyager Reprise." The pop pandering is a little shameless, sure, but that's half the fun.
It would be going too far to suggest that Astro Coast, Surfer Blood’s debut album, was in a league of its own. Surfer Blood were just one of many bands who joined the Drums-led charge of bright and breezy guitar-pop, who coasted into town towards the end of 2009 for a brief holiday romance in the summer of 2010. But just because Surfer Blood weren’t the only ones bringing Beach Boys-style harmonies and sweet, simple hooks back into fashion, doesn’t mean they didn’t do these things better than most.
Tarot Classics, Surfer Blood’s new palette-cleansing EP, finds the Florida-based indie-rock quartet in a winsome state of flux. Recent Warner Bros. signees, transplanted from their original label, the uber-indie Kanine Records (Are people still considered sell-outs when they do this, or is that over now?), these tuneful critical darlings toss off four future setlist showstoppers with the ease of veterans twice their age.
On their debut album, 2010’s Astro Coast, Surfer Blood made a name for themselves that stretched beyond the blogs, thanks largely to the anthemic nature of “Swim” and an all-around consistent batch of charming harmonies that showcased a heartwarming indie innocence last heard in the ’90s. It’s been nearly two years, and the band’s Tarot Classics EP serves as their final effort for Kanine Records, as well as a brief, yet appropriate, layover while fans await their major label full-length debut. Surfer Blood stated that they would move away from the lo-fi sounds that made up much of Astro Coast, and we get a taste of that with “Miranda”.
"I'm not ready to look the other way," Surfer Blood frontman John Paul Pitts lets loose halfway through "I'm Not Ready". So it would seem. "Ready" launches Tarot Classics, Surfer Blood's first proper release since early 2010's Astro Coast. Title aside, it's a modest effort, four sturdy pop-rockers, 15 easy minutes.
Their last release on Kanine, Tarot Classics offers a brief glimpse of where Surfer Blood is headed before moving to the major-label world. The band sounds far cleaner than they did on their endearingly hazy debut Astro Coast and relying less on the dreamy, lo-fi surf reverb that crested on songs like “Swim.” This time, they deliver a more focused attack and developed songwriting, particularly on “I’m Not Ready,” where the drums pack more of a punch and the song morphs from chugging verses to a tumbling breakdown that still conjures towering waves. “Miranda,” meanwhile, shows that the band hasn’t forgotten that crunchy riffs and sweet harmonies go together like chocolate and peanut butter.
With Tarot Classics, Surfer Blood returns in a format that perfectly complements their breezy garage-pop sound: the EP. With all due respect to their debut LP, Astro Coast, the West Palm Beach hipsters’ punchy surf rock is best consumed sparingly, preferably while—depending on where you happen to live—aimlessly watching the waves roll in or navigating the tedium of suburbia. Tarot Classics treats listeners to just a slice of Surfer Blood’s Blue Album-inspired everyman rock while acting as an expansion on Astro Coast‘s guitar-drenched offerings, and the result is a stronger, more concentrated dose of beachfaring ear candy.
Surfer Blood provides a good case study of how fraught and precarious the existence of a hyped-up next big thing can be, though, of course, most any young band would rather be in such a position than not. Thanks to an exuberant debut that hardly anybody knew was coming until it arrived, the Florida quartet put itself in this situation by raising expectations that were never there to begin with before 2010’s Astro Coast. With more and more fans to satisfy and a major label deal to now live up to, Surfer Blood has a career trajectory that’s definitely on an upward tick, though it’s one that might just lead the foursome into a no-win damned-if-you-do-or-don’t predicament, if its latest effort is any indication.
Surfer Blood main man John Paul Pitts recently claimed he unwittingly became part of the lo-fi movement by virtue of his band recording their debut album on less-than-adequate equipment in his apartment. Clearly keen to avoid a repeat of releasing something of such perceived low quality, Surfer Blood’s second release Tarot Classics immediately reveals itself to be a much crisper recording. In doing so, however, Pitts has changed Surfer Blood’s sound, dragged it kicking and screaming into high fidelity, and risked alienating some of the fledgling band’s fans.