Surfer Blood-Astro Coast
2010; Kanine Records
It's official: I am concerned.
You must not go into Astro Coast expecting to have your mind blown. If you do this, you will be disappointed. This is somewhat par for the course. What you should expect are some interesting guitar riffs and pleasant harmonies, and occasionally a clever lyric or two.
In other words, what you need to expect while listening to this album is nothing more and nothing less than something that is precisely run of the mill.
We have reached the point of indie saturation where things like this don't exactly cut it. Remember, it didn't take even a solid year for people to get sick of Vampire Weekend, and while they were cribbing a lot from smaller bands, their debut was considered somewhat fresh and unique when it came out. Having a nice melody is one better than a trip to the grocery store in this day and age.
And when something like this comes out, something that is constructed entirely on nice melodies, with a defecit of substance underneath...you feel like you wasted your money. You look to indie music for something that'll either make you think or lift your spirit, and when it sounds like it's doing that, but it's not doing that, one is apt to be mildly frustrated.
And I specifically mean "frustrated", because listening to the album as I write this, I really want to say that you should run out and buy this album. I feel like I'm picking on Surfer Blood and truth be told, I'm sort of hating writing this review because yes, this album is making me sort of happy while I'm listening to it, and I can appreciate some of the interesting guitar tones that they get. And I don't want it to seem like Astro Coast is completely devoid of quality, because it absolutely is not. The first three tracks are delightful, the single "Swim" in particular, and "Fast Jabroni"/"Slow Jabroni" is an interesting exercise. And it must be said that "Catholic Pagans" never fails to make me laugh each time I hear it.
But the simple fact is, you've heard this album before. This pleasant, poppy, cheerily disaffected tone? It's old hat. If you've heard Los Campesinos!, if you've heard Vampire Weekend, if you've heard Young Knives or Arctic Monkeys or the Velvet Teen or Wolf Parade, you've heard bits and pieces of this album already, just done slightly better. And while it's somewhat different to hear indie pop synthesized with bratty alternative rock, you can still pick out exactly where everything in this album comes from.
To a certain extent this album is worth hearing, if only because of the level of craft put in to making it. And for the record, I'll probably be willing to buy their second album whenever it comes out. But if Surfer Blood wants to stay relevant in the musical landscape, they're going to need to expand their sound significantly with coming albums and do something that really makes them stand out from the bloated, self-mining indie pack. To quote one of their own lyrics, "Take some time to figure it out/'Cause if you don't, you're gonna do without."