Band: Surfer Blood
Record label: Joyful Noise
Highlight Tracks: “Dino Jay,” “Taking care of Eddy,” “Snowdonia”
The Floridian indie rock band Surfer Blood haven’t had an easy journey with the past few years marked by legal problems and the tragic death of their guitarist. Yet their new album, Snowdonia, maintains their trademark upbeat surf-rock vibes, with sun-drenched riffs and rich, chilled melodies. Departing from the poppier vibes present in previous album 1000 Palms as well as the scuzzy sound of Pythons, it’s a return to Surfer Blood’s more low-key roots.
Seven years on from their debut album Astro Coast though, it’s become a little stale — and with only eight tracks, the album almost comes across as unfinished.
Opening tracks “Matter of Time” and “Instant Doppelgängers” tell us exactly what to expect from the album. They’re both chilled out, sunny and simplistic, with a tinge of nineties grunge sound.
It’s a formula that repeats throughout with varying success; and at the more promising end of this formula are “Frozen,” and “Dino Jay,” Despite “Frozen's” cheery melody the grunge influence is more pronounced with the fuzzy guitar channelling Pixies. Both feature melodies that are rich and tinged with nostalgia, offering more than just a straightforward surf vibe.
However, this formula also results in “Carrier Pigeon,” a forgettable indie song which simply goes on too long and has nothing to say.
There’s also ventures into different territory in between the indie rock sound of the album, such as “Taking care of Eddy,” which retains Surfer Blood’s sound, but also adds something by being darker and heavier than other tracks on the album, veering into to straight-up rock and having a lot of fun with it.
Other ventures beyond surf-rock seem to be more uncertain and tentative, though. With moments of experimentation sandwiched between the formulaic sunny riffs, the album comes across as an exploration rather than a finished product, with lots of long, rambling forays (three out of eight tracks are over five minutes long).
One such foray is the track that gives the album its name, “Snowdonia.” Building up slowly, “Snowdonia” takes it time; there’s no vocals for the first minute and a half, and the track lasts for over seven minutes. It pays off; the effect is a slow, thoughtful journey that takes you along with it, providing the highlight of the album. It’s introspective and at turns angsty and euphoric, with weaving harmonies alongside muted, mournful lyrics like the repeated ‘you don’t need me anymore.’
“Six Flags in F or G” closes the album, and like “Snowdonia,” is long and explorative. Also like “Snowdonia” it’s not super polished and perhaps lack direction — but still really works. Starting off dark and psychedelic, there’s a sense of tension and urgency in the repeated riffs and deep sound. It then morphs almost into a different song, returning once again to Surfer Blood’s more upbeat and chilled out sound, with melodies somewhat reminiscent of Oasis.
The track seems to travel, starting off angsty and ending with a sense of pathos and poignancy wrapped up in the relaxed riffs and melodic vocals. It’s a reflective, satisfying end to an understated, meandering album that sometimes struggles to impress as it becomes lost in thought.