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Surfer Blood

Astro Coast

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Kanine Records

Whether it feels like it or not, it’s been a while since the grunge-influenced power-pop of the ’90s dominated radio airwaves. Hell, it’s been a while since radio was particularly influential. Nirvana, Weezer and Fountains of Wayne all backed up their pop chops with muscular guitars and propulsive rhythm, influencing a decade of garage pop bands.
Fast forward to 2010, nearly 20 years since sing-along choruses pushed fuzzy guitars back into the mainstream. Independent music has splintered in every possible direction, obviously helped along by the proliferation of the internet and online music promotion. Moreover, music fans are restlessly searching for new sounds. If an indie band today cites both Nerf Herder and Vampire Weekend as influences, it’s intriguing instead of off-putting.

In the case of Florida’s up-and-coming Surfer Blood, that’s a very good thing – this is music that deserves to be heard, loud and proud. On their debut Astro Coast, world-beat breakdowns bleed into soaring guitar pop choruses, and the chiming guitars that were once so signature to U2’s sound are paired up with vocals that sound as if they were recorded from the far end of a particularly deep cavern. From the first few seconds of “Floating Vibes,” it’s apparent these guys have created something special. Layered guitars and reverb-heavy vocals start to recall Weezer’s “Surf Wax America” before the guitar freak-out and strings enter halfway through to change the track’s trajectory. And that’s all within the first song.

Enough can’t be said about last year’s single, “Swim.” It’s simply huge – riff after riff, it bores into the subconscious until you’re humming the chorus unconsciously. Yes, it’s that hooky. It’s a little weird in its segmented structure. You’ll swear the first vocal line is still echoing well past the three minute mark, and the chorus is simple and to the point: “Swim/ To reach the end.” And because of all this, you’ll be singing it over and over.

Like most young guys, vocalist and guitarist John Paul Pitts sings about girls and growing up in equal measure over the course of their debut, while backing up the songs with solid and inventive musicianship. The lighthearted “Take it Easy” relies on Tyler Schwarz’s guitar lines to send shivers up and down the fret board, while Marcos Marchesani’s worldly percussion drives the verses into choruses and back again. The instrumental “Neighbor Riffs” is a nice showcase of bassist Brian Black’s melodic contributions, and “Fast Jabroni” crashes the gates with a riff that rivals the Arcade Fire at their most anthemic before piling on the pop flavorings. It’s riveting stuff.

Still, as good as Astro Coast is, it’s not perfect. The deep drone of “Slow Jabroni” wears thin over its six minutes, and breaks the momentum the band had built up when paired with the even longer “Anchorage” in the album’s latter minutes. “Catholic Pagans” returns the band to more creative and concise pastures, with overflowing harmonies and musical outbursts. Still, after nearly 13 minutes of material that seems to go on much longer than that, it’s only a brief return to form.

Still, despite a few tracks that go on too long, Astro Coast is undoubtedly a winner. “Heads will turn in disbelief,” Pitts claims in “Swim.” For this little band, I certainly hope they do.

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