The members of Surfer Blood don’t actually surf. Despite hailing from the sun-kissed coasts of West Palm Beach, Fla., the (very) young musicians in this quirky foursome spent their youth jammin’ to indie pop tunes instead of catching waves. Its name, which came to be after a night of heavy drinking, refers more to the joys of underage drunken banter than the cocky surf-heads dominating the Florida coast.
On Surfer Blood’s debut Astro Coast, the band manages to meld its hometown’s sunny aesthetic with a distinctively lo-fi production for a catchy collection of tracks recalling old-school Weezer with a Beach Boys flavor. The curious combination of artistic influences is largely a success, allowing the band to infuse different genres with its own adolescent energy.
Astro Coast’s production history is a teenage garage band’s dream. According to the band’s MySpace bio, the album was originally recorded in a proper studio, but lead singer/guitarist JP Pitts was disappointed with the crisp production sound and preferred a fuzzier lo-fi feel. Using instruments purchased with scholarship cash, the band then re-recorded its debut in a freshman dorm room at the University of Florida, thereby capturing the stripped-down aura Pitts was searching for.
Slowly building blog buzz over the past few months, Surfer Blood has emerged at the forefront of the quirky beach-bum glo-fi movement. With distorted vocals and simplistic strings, Astro Coast captures the band’s youthful exuberance while emphasizing its sunny roots, creating the perfect album for lazy summertime jaunts to the shore.
Opening with “Floating Vibes,” the band immediately introduces its chilled-out, eclectic sound by combining Joy Division-influenced riffs with Rivers Cuomo-esque vocals. Although the band eschews any relation to surfer culture, the song is packed with references to the sport, professing “If you’re movin’ out to the West / Then you’d better learn how to surf.”
While this young band is still attempting to reconcile its identity with its lyrical content, it still offers listeners a diverse mix of tracks scaling a broad scope of musical genres. On the cutesy “Take It Easy,” the band’s instrumentation recalls a stoned Vampire Weekend, replacing Ivy League pretension with an easy-going beach lover’s attitude. The track is juxtaposed against the composed “Harmonix,” which pays homage to the collected scene of calculated indie rock.
The subdued “Catholic Pagans” continues this trend, combining Brian Wilson-inspired arrangements with references to drugs and general dissatisfaction. Standing in sharp contrast with the album’s more upbeat progressions, the track emphasizes the band’s ability to experiment without compromising its overarching beach-going feel. By failing to fall into one narrow category, Astro Coast offers an engaging kaleidoscope of sound with enough variation to appease even the most prejudiced listener.
But there are points where the willingness to experiment works against the band. The long-winded “Slow Jabroni” attempts epic grandeur but ultimately falls short. Opening with slow-paced acoustic strings, the song only begins to pick up toward its end, finishing with a fast-paced finale that nearly makes up for its tepid start. Despite a dull beginning, the cut is still far from a failure, showing that even the band’s least engaging effort is still a triumph of sorts.
Combining calculated forays into artistic experimentation with youthful vitality, Astro Coast is a highly entertaining record that’s packed with stripped-down adolescent charm. Despite the band’s aversion to surfer culture, the album is very much a product of its sandy roots. By combining a hazy atmosphere with an abundance of musical influences, Surfer Blood’s debut offers diverse soundscapes while remaining grounded in its chilled-out character.