Surfer Blood make fun, catchy, slackery guitar pop. They’re a musical version of one of those convenient evolutionary missing links, sitting as they do barely within the confines of 2008-9’s lots-of-reverb-and-sunglasses-indoors lo-fi style and also, more firmly, within that moment in 90s alt music, maybe crystallised mostly in recollection, when boom-buoyed suburban parents started buying their kids expensive equipment for their garage bands, leading to big guitar sounds, huge choruses made of gen. x world view and Weezer dominating MTV.
For a while, music as big-sounding as Surfer Blood would have been too self-confident, too marketable. But that style of ‘alternative’ fell out with nu-metal. It’s now the 10s, so the 90s are officially retro and fair game to be doused in reverb and refitted to purpose. You can start your album with a couple of power chords, sing your songs straight and basic to the ideal female ‘you’ and do guitar solos where you stamp on a pedal and step forward to the front of the stage (so long as they’re simple).
Surfer Blood are a school textbook quality example of what I once said of Squarehead – they’re a band for whom every song sounds like a shot at the best guitar pop they can possibly do. So it’s less about the peaks and troughs of the journey, though there are slower, more ‘atmospheric’ songs, and more about how close to perfection each individual song gets. Swim, the song everyone will have heard if they’ve heard any, is the best effort in those terms. If the storyboard of a song goes ‘hook -> second hook -> bossa part -> third hook -> rock out -> first hook -> second hook’ you’re in pretty good stead in terms of keeping listener attention, and with a riff like something off Ultimate Guitar God Collection, Swim’s about as close to an unadulterated head bang as you’re going to get without studio compression fizzing your ear off.
There are no weird chords, or turns that don’t sound they’re exactly what should have happened to the previous part at that specific time. It could be any of the songs that’s left in your head later in the day, or most importantly, in the morning when you wake up before you can figure out what it actually is. The only drawbacks are stupid, throwaway things like that line about “TWIN PEAKS AND DAVID LYNCH, SAT ON YOUR COUCH IN SYRACUSE”, as if there was absolutely nothing else but namedropping the cred-loaded guy who directed the show you were watching that you could throw in to fill the metre.
As for the 2008-9 reverb-soaked lo-fi bit? Well, you can hear that in the reverb. And the lo-fi. Home-recorded, like obvious but slightly cleaner-cut precursors Vampire Weekend’s debut. In fact, Contra opening at number one in America seems like it might have had a lot to do with Surfer Blood’s deal with the nefarious Warner in the wake of Astro Coast. But so might the fact that more than half of these songs could’ve been lead singles. That’s not hyperbole. Floating Vibes, Swim, Take It Easy, Twin Peaks, Fast Jabroni and Catholic Pagans. Investigate. Even if the major label devils somehow destroy the incredible melodic sense and song-building ability, there’ll always be this one, out of the blue and as good as you could imagine it.