It’s been 20 years since My Bloody Valentine released Loveless. It’s been 26 since The Jesus and Mary Chain dropped Psychocandy. And even more staggering, it’s been a whopping 44 years since The Velvet Underground released their debut. Distorted, noisy pop music is now old enough to have grown kids, and given the footsteps left for a young indie rock band to follow, it’s not quite enough anymore to merely be a good noise-pop act. Anyone can stomp on a phase shifter and do their best Kevin Shields impression, but without a solid set of music to back up the fuzz, all the effects in the world can’t save a mediocre pop record.
New Zealand’s Surf City is a band that understands this. On their self-titled debut EP, they kicked up their share of noise, but the distortion was merely a side dish to their irresistible hooks and head-spinning melodies. Though clearly taking more than subtle influences from the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain (the name should give that away), The Velvet Underground and fellow countrymen The Clean, Surf City build a fantastic new model atop their predecessors’ blueprints.
Still harnessing the buzzing, ringing, clanging euphoria of their debut EP, Surf City move beyond that template with their first full-length, Kudos. Stylistically, the band maintains the same sound they teased listeners with two years ago. But the songs this time around are even stronger, offering a satisfying blend of upbeat rhythms and stellar melodies. The shoegazer assault of “Crazy Rulers of the World” is an invigorating shock to the senses, while the playful “See How the Sun” layers three-chord jangle with distorted vocals to great effect. The title track is on a level of its own, however, with high-pitched “ooh-oohs” punctuating the epic slice of fuzz.
Deceptively simple, albeit endlessly enjoyable, Surf City’s Kudos pulls the rare trick of reinvigorating a now decades-old sound without gimmick or excessive eccentricity. Surf City is, simply, a great pop group whose method of delivery happens to involve a lot of distortion. Reinvention isn’t always necessary to yield interesting new results.
Listen: Surf City – MySpace
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.