The song titles on Surfer Blood’s debut album Astro Coast read like placeholders for demos: “Harmonix,” “Neighbor Riffs,” “Fast Jabroni,” “Slow Jabroni.” They’re the kind of slugs found scrawled with Sharpies on scraps of paper throughout studios, indicating an unfinished exercise, or the mere spark of an idea. If anything, though, it reflects on the band’s raw, scruffy nature than any tendency for half-baked ideas; Astro Coast is far too detailed and cohesive to be mistaken for a demo. But the band’s still quite young, only having been together about a year, and that urgency spills out over Astro Coast‘s ten tracks, rushing forth with a youthful energy that makes this set all the more exciting. Frankly, with music this big and exuberant, titles are a secondary concern.
A record big on guitars and even bigger on hooks, Surfer Blood’s debut owes a lot to the early ’90s alternative rock heyday. There are traces of Weezer and Pavement, which certainly helps to echo the California vibe their name suggests (even though the band is from Florida), and their use of fuzz and reverb work to amplify their sound, making it more enormous and over-the-top than cavernous or eerie. Astro Coast sounds powerful, but benevolent, as Surfer Blood spread their charming, fun-loving vibe via the awesome force of their power chords.
“Swim” surfaced in late 2009, and it’s a prime example of everything the band does well—crunchy chords, reverb-addled vocals and an urgent rhythm, all adding up to one spectacular rock anthem. It’s merely one of ten such giddy, hard rocking and, yes, surf-inspired rock standouts. “Floating Vibes” is equally brilliant, melodically, though not quite as bombastic. Peppy and swathed in a glowing sort of fuzz, like mid-period Built to Spill, it’s chock full of handclaps and clever quips like “forget the second coming/ `cause I need you in the here and now.” With “Take It Easy” they take the Vampire Weekend route of Afrobeat-inspired pop, start an arcade fire on “Fast Jabroni” and offer a sleek post-punk approach on “Harmonix.” Their style shifts ever so slightly between tracks, displaying versatility without disparateness or incoherence.
Surfer Blood have proven themselves remarkably adept at making a well-worn, frequently conservative style of guitar rock sound pretty damn exciting on Astro Coast. This is the kind of album I would have absolutely flipped for in 1994, but with this band’s chops, both in songwriting and musicianship, it’s also something I’ve fallen in love with in 2010.