[Kanine Records (2011)]
I really never thought I’d hear myself say this, but only when Surfer Blood start to resist the urge to talk girls over pop confection do they start to grab me on this little four-song tour trinket. There’s still not much that’s more nod-inducing in modern beach pop than some surging distortion-pedaling by lead singer/guitarist John Paul Pitts, but when he tones it down a bit on the second half of Tarot Classics, something emerges that’s as heartening as anything one hears in music: depth in the writing of a talented melody-maker.
Surfer Blood must themselves recognize the larger transition occurring, since they insert a kind of musical delineation between the first two tracks (“I’m Not Ready” and “Miranda”) and the best back-to-back tracks they’ve yet laid down. Much will probably be said of “Voyager Reprise” and “Drinking Problem,” and let’s hope much will be said of longer work that follows. All we need to know now is that they’re worth the price of admission by themselves.
There’s nothing revolutionary happening in these two tracks. It’s more about how they take a melody and ride it just long enough, no part wearing out its welcome, the guitar finding some noisiness and becoming welcomingly warmer and more human for it. There is, after all, a possible pitfall to the kind of studied and cleanly recorded pop that filled Surfer Blood’s first record, Astro Coast. (I couldn’t help thinking that “I’m Not Ready” and “Miranda” might’ve had their gestation somewhere closer to the completion of that record than now.) The pitfall can be that the parts become more than the whole, and that the polish wears thin. On the latter two tracks here, the polish feels more like hard work in the service of overall feel and effect. Although “Voyager Reprise” would have mixed nicely with The Psychedelic Furs in any Reagan-era movie prom scene, it keeps its bop tight and somehow coasts in and out in 4 and a half minutes without its feeling like much over 2. This is an about-face from the sometime parts-piling excesses of earlier songs. The melodies are fewer and farther between, but just as good. “Drinking Problem” is even simpler in construction, gliding as it does on loops, Pitts harmonizing with himself, snippets of his own voice, keyboard, and the birds of “Tomorrow Never Knows” arriving and departing.
In all, it’s the sound of a band starting to trust themselves. Surfer Blood seem to have done that quicker than many.
—Jacob Luckey (Lawrenceville, NJ)