Artist: Surfer Blood
Label: Kanine Records
Even before the official release of their inaugural LP Astro Coast, University of Florida products Surfer Blood have gained acclaim the web over. Similar to Wavves' sophomore effort last year, the band has brought surf rock into the modern musical sphere, by infusing it with noise. Except in the case of Surfer Blood, this injection of noise is tempered by a myriad of other genres as well. Their vocal similarities to The Shins' James Mercer aside, each and every song on Astro Coast presents itself as mashup of styles and techniques which somehow all mesh together into one cogent, and deliberate wall of infectious sound.
Surfer Blood is at its best on Astro Coast when it fully harnesses the strength of its energy and enthusiasm, and channels it into blaring, effects laden explosions of sound. Nowhere is this found better than on single "Swim," which is equal parts destructive and organized, trouncing amidst its own muck and mayhem. The real key to its coherence is the incessant pop riffs which the band overwhelming succeeds at inserting, regardless of the noise going on around them. Whether engulfed in a barrage of sound, or engaging in a smooth tradeoff between relaxed vocals and tropical instrumentation (see "Take It Easy" for one of numerous examples), the album manages to exude an air of pop sensibility and confidence that both puts you at ease, and has you anxiously awaiting what's next.
Along with the aforementioned incorporation of surf and noise rock sounds, one would be amiss to ignore the indie and 90s alt-rock and punk aspects of Astro Coast as well. "Fast Jabroni" employs this grunge vibe with a ton of effects layered on top, and the results are surprisingly flawless-- a perfect blend of the past couple decades of music, into one melting pot of pop efficiency. Without missing a beat however, the track's counterpart "Slow Jabroni" is inversely deliberate and methodical in its appropriately slow approach. The song trudges through an earthy muck for the first half, before exploding into a collection of epic, anthemic noise transcendent of any genre or time frame.
If one is forced to critique any aspect of Astro Coast, it may only be out of personal preference. As pop-friendly and lively as tracks like "Catholic Pagans" are, one can't help but look back at "Swim" and wonder what a full album of that brash and spectacular noise could have sounded like. The more light-hearted the background music appears, the more similarities to The Shins seem to become more apparent. This is most evident on "Twin Peaks," which features a much more subdued, bouncy verse than its antagonistic, echoed chorus full of more than a few heavy doses of shouting. In no way does it take away from the song, or the release's overall effectiveness, but it does leave some space for the listener to think about what could have been-- or perhaps allow for suspense in waiting for a second release (depending on your point of view, of course).
Sharp and on-point at all times, Surfer Blood takes what could have been chaos, and organizes it into a selection of songs which span decades of music. Their flair for the dramatic on sprawling choruses and elsewhere are what separates them from their peers, and allows them to avoid becoming lumped in with the increasing number of similarly influenced groups. Young, bold and seemingly gleaming with potential, Surfer Blood is embarking on a trip with limitless potential after their first official release. After shredding through their first album, we can only hope there's something left in the tank, however all indications are that this is only the beginning for a band we're sure to hear much more about in the coming year.
Best Track: "Swim"
[Previously on Animal Noises: Tuesday's Releases (1/12): Now Streaming]