Album Review: Surfer Blood – Snowdonia

By on Thursday, 2nd February 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Surfer Blood Snowdonia album coverIt’s hard to believe that Surfer Blood’s debut single ‘Swim’ came out in 2009. You remember the song. I didn’t get the hype. I witnessed the crazy reception the band got in 2010 at the 9:30 Club when they co-headlined a tour with another hot indie American band at the time, the Drums. It was there that I started to understand that the feeling of the music and how it moved them meant more to the fans than the actual lyrics. I think. If any band in the last 10 years should be given an award for keeping the interest up in noodley guitar rock, Surfer Blood would be on the short list. Their established sound has soundtracked countless college frat parties, the relaxed, feel good guitars providing a pleasing background music that earth-shatteringly exceptional, but comfortable.

On their latest album ‘Snowdonia’, the proceedings begin with upbeat foot-stomper ‘Matter of Time’. Doesn’t conjure up images of the snowy Welsh national park for you, does it? Perhaps the name is intended to be representative of strength in rocky, rough adversity? Diplomatic negotiations are the order of the day in ‘Frozen’ – “after some concessions, the deal was done” aren’t exactly pop lyrics, are they? – but both songs seem to be confronting the problems of growing up and how life gets all the more difficult the older you get.

But don’t worry. Things don’t stay that serious for long. With a killer guitar solo, suspiciously single length ‘Dino Jay’ is a love song: “then at the pier, with the moon on your face / I knew I can love you for the rest of my days”. The added harmonising backing vocals are courtesy of current bassist Lindsey Mills, another one of Pitts’ mates from high school. Her addition to the band should be interesting going forward on Surfer Blood’s future pursuits. Even with an instrumental intro going over a minute, long title track ‘Snowdonia’ isn’t serious or pretentious either. It’s more of an experiment with some unusual guitar and percussion moments at the conclusion.

Change is inevitable in the life cycle of a band, and this is certainly true for a band like them who has soldiered on for so many years. Sadly, they’ve suffered two major losses in the 18 months. Longtime bassist Kevin Williams quit the band in October 2015. More crushing was the death of original guitarist Thomas Fekete who, after a valiant battle with cancer, sadly passed away in May 2016. Anyone including myself will acknowledge that his passing will be felt in their live performances; he was genuinely such a happy soul and it was obvious at gigs that he let himself get lost in his guitar playing. As a nice nod to his fallen bandmate, Pitts has admitted that the effects on the guitars on ‘Six Flags in F and G’ were those that Fekete himself had impressed on him. The result is an oddly cool mélange of old and new, the increasingly washy guitars towards the end giving a ‘70s psychedelic feel.

It’s often said that life gives us trials when we’re ready for them. In addition to Fekete’s cancer diagnosis, singer J.P. Pitts’ own mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer. This caused the singer/songwriter to take a step back and use music to convey his most personal thoughts to date in ‘Carrier Pigeon’. It’s another brief step back in time, as his bandmates bolster the main vocal line with Beach Boys-esque doo wop backing harmonies. Thanking his mother for everything she’s done for him and his sister, it’s a surprisingly sweet way for a surf rock band to close the record.

It’s unclear from ‘Snowdonia’ if Surfer Blood plan to stay the course in indie guitar rock, or if they’re planning on changing things up with an increased emphasis on vocal harmonies or perhaps taking a cue from the late Fekete on guitar effects. However, the cheerful sound of this record that should please longtime fans suggests Pitts and co. weren’t going to crawl up in a ball following Fekete’s death. While the band didn’t reinvent the wheel on this album, sometimes you don’t need to.

7/10

‘Snowdonia’, the fourth studio album from Florida indie surf rock band Surfer Blood, is out tomorrow, the 3rd of February, on Joyful Noise /Secretly Canadian. To catch up on all of TGTF’s coverage of Surfer Blood in the past, go here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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