Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr For the first time since its debut album Astro Coast, Surfer Blood has delivered an album that actually sounds like the band heard on its impressive 2010 release. Fittingly, Snowdonia also marks the first time lead singer and songwriter John Paul Pitts wrote and mixed the album alone. Part of the appeal surrounding the group’s debut was the fairly bare-bones, reverbed production that brought Pitts’ voice to the fore and highlighted the group’s singular guitar hooks. Because of this, Snowdonia feels not only the spiritual progeny of Astro Coast, but also like the band’s official follow-up, after more than half a decade lost in the wilderness. Snowdonia is a measured, thoughtful return to its roots. After the departure of bassist Kevin Williams and the tragic loss of guitarist Thomas Fekete to cancer, the quartet of high school friends was suddenly no more. Returning to the well from which the original group was drawn, however, Pitts and drummer Tyler Schwarz once again recruited a pair of fellow West Palm Beach high school alums in guitarist Michael McCleary and bassist Lindsey Mills. Their addition not only augments the existing Surfer Blood sound, but adds a richly complex layer to the band’s dueling harmonies. Mills in particular is an ideal vocal foil to Pitts’ increasingly world-weary, homespun croon. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Six Flags in F or G,” her harmony rising above the fray in the song’s closing triumphant moments. Mills’ presence helps temper some of the boys’ club atmosphere, a much-needed element that reinvigorates the band’s sound. The title track relies on an almost Zombies-esque sing-song vocal melody that finds Pitts’ and Mills’ voices soaring high above the intertwining guitars, Mills’ bass rumbling right along with as a sort of shadow melody. At nearly eight minutes, it offers enough musical twists and turns to remain interesting, at times approaching a sort of roughshod Beach Boys sound with the band’s new reliance on swirling, Wilson brothers-esque vocal harmonies becoming a go-to staple. If nothing else, it’s an admirable step forward, building on its existing aesthetic in a manner more suited to Astro Coast than the subsequent releases that saw it bouncing from the majors back to the minors on Pythons and 1000 Palms. Where on these the group sounded unsure of who it was and what it wanted to be, Snowdonia is a quietly confident return to form. Yet even with these positive steps forward for a young band that has been through a hell of a lot in the last few years, Snowdonia can’t help but feel like a tentative return. Gone is the brawny bluster of such instant classics as Astro Coast’s “Swim” of “Floating Vibes,” replaced by a far more subdued, at times almost melancholy vibe that, while still calling to mind a decidedly “surf” sound and influence, hints at something darker, more sophisticated in its emotional nuance. In other words, Snowdonia is the sound of a band in transition, one working to come into its own with new members and newfound drive and focus. Once the band is fully acclimated to the new bandmates and their sonic possibilities, Surfer Blood may well return to the heights hinted at on their debut and sporadically throughout the intervening years. In the meantime, Snowdonia is a welcome almost return to form with the band sounding more relaxed and confident while still taking a series of tentative steps forward, creatively and interpersonally. “Carrier Pigeon” is a gorgeously melancholic anthem that simmers with the nostalgia of leaving childhood behind for the often bittersweet world of adulthood. Rather than relying on cloying sentimentality, Pitts and company tap into this often tricky emotional range, imbuing it with a sincerity and pathos that shows them truly coming into their own as writers, musicians and performers. It’s a fine closing statement, one struck through with the promise of even better things yet to come. Snowdonia is the sound of a group coming to terms with where it’s been and where it could potentially go. With enough confidence and time to allow fresh wounds to heal, Surfer Blood may well once again be an indie force to be reckoned with.