The hottest new band of the hottest new decade (just making a prediction here), Surfer Blood, has gotten a few comparisons to Vampire Weekend and...wait, wait, where are you going, cynics and punks young and old?! Keep reading, and just trust me! These dudes seem like they grew up grooving to their parents’ copy of Graceland too, but dug their Cheap Trick records more. Then they discovered their own Cheap Trick with Weezer, branched out to some shoegaze and early emo stuff and the product is right here. The only problem with my hypothesis is that these West Palm Beach natives are only in their early 20s, meaning they were born after Graceland and were like five or six when The Blue Album came out.
I only heard one song prior to this album, but that was enough for me to know I needed to have it. “Swim” is like a Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin song but with fuzzier guitars and vocals courtesy of John Paul Pitts (JP) that sound like he shouted them from deep within a cave, echoing out to infinity. I couldn't decide what was catchier -- the vocals or the in-your-face power-pop guitar riffs. Then at just over a minute, it takes a sharp left into a reggaeton-lite beat and Islands-style guitar lines. It breaks out of that, ending the bridge with huge guitar chords masking the 7/4 time signature and then it’s back to the big riffs from earlier. If you still think it’s all smoke and mirrors, watch them play it live in-studio at Seattle’s KEXP radio. You’ll also see their touring member Marcos Marchesani (newer than the album) rock out a crazy assortment of cowbells, woodblocks and maracas as well as a Moog. Hopefully they can get big enough that drummer TJ Schwarz can afford a new top hi-hat cymbal.
Luckily, the guys dial back all of that vocal echo on the other tracks, ‘cause that could have gotten annoying. But they do love the reverb, and this, along with the guitar tones, takes shoegaze-influenced production tricks and applies them in places this reviewer has never heard before. Taking into account that they recorded it themselves in a University of Florida campus apartment (man, pretty lax neighbors you got there) just makes it all the more impressive, though the drums do sound a little weak, even though those were tracked in a studio proper (low-budget I’m sure). They make the guitar sound somehow fit even on “Take It Easy,” the only track where they go all-in on the Afro-pop thing, with its off-beat hi-hat and cowbells holding down the sunny guitar lines and falsetto vocal bits. “Twin Peaks” has a section in that breezy style too, with recorder and bunches of auxiliary percussion tucked in there. You’ll like it even if you hate Vampire Weekend, I reckon.
There is plenty here to draw you punkers in as well, like “Harmonix,” the song in which it dawned on me that JP sounds just like Tim Kasher if you rounded off the rough edges. The song is more squared-up and emo-ish, stripped to a simple drum beat and guitar harmonics (appropriately named I suppose) to start. However, this is one of my least favorite tracks, but it does mix things up. “Floating Vibes” and later “Anchorage” take their sound and apply it to straight-up indie rock à la Wolf Parade. But when the strings come in on “Floating Vibes,” I am once again blown away that this was recorded in basically a dorm room.
“Neighbor Riffs” seemed like a pointless inclusion to me at first, being a two-minute instrumental. But the guitar hooks got me shortly thereafter, being vaguely Vampire-ish but over a rock beat and with some background fuzz. “Fast Jabroni” sounds kinda Arcade Fire (I know, how many hip comparisons can these guys smash into their sound?) with its four-on-the-floor drumbeat under quick hi-hat and more prominent synths. But then I realize that they’re not the downers that Arcade Fire are when that cheery guitar lead comes in doubled by frickin’ glockenspiel. But Surfer Blood can do the slow-burn thing too, as next track “Slow Jabroni” does just as the title would indicate and brings it down with acoustic guitar over the super-fuzz, and the drums not entering fully until 3:30.
Hop on the train before you’re sick of hearing their name. Hell, Justin Timberlake is already hip to the group, so you better get your shit together. And don’t pretend like you’re too cool already, like those surfers that the band was tormented by in high school, inspiring their name. Check ‘em out; just don’t go back in the water. (*Rimshot*) Thank you, thank you.