SURFER BLOOD is the best new American band, period. They’re not doing anything exceptionally groundbreaking like most would demand from a “Best Band in America,” but they do something much better than breaking ground, they get you to dance on that ground every time they play. They give you an album full of champions, like PHOENIX just did in 2009, and they give it to you in the form of guys you want to root for. SURFER BLOOD is babies. 4 of them, helped out by 1 crazy-fro’d ball of energy who handles the synths and cowbells. They’re from West Palm Beach, FL. They’re all in their early 20s. They’re here to have fun, but underneath that veneer lies everything you’d expect from young talented 20-somethings: drug use, despair, love, jokes, bull shit, etc…
I rarely fall for a band at their live show, but during CMJ at 2 a.m. on a weeknight in the LES’ Cake Shop, I tasted sweet gold. I heard this tight, fun, catchy, dancy, infectious, surfy, power pop band that had me singing along with every song by its second chorus. Part early WEEZER/ part BEACH BOYS / part early MODEST MOUSE, with thick guitar riffs, slick guitar solos, hook-you-in-the-brains basslines, get-up drum beats and a variety of cowbells and synth swells, these 5 bros have the party of a lifetime on-stage. That’s how live music should be, folks. I saw these fellas more times than I’d like to admit during that CMJ festival, and these guys muted all the other sound; they legitimately monopolized all the ’09 CMJ buzz.
Astro Coast opens with Floating Vibes, which sets the whole tone for the album. It starts with a loud, thumping bass drum and thick, catchy guitar line. That drives the song through the first verse, perfectly delivered by lead singer John Paul Pitts, an authentic budding rock star. The song is fully equipped with hand claps, BEACH BOYS “oohs” and “ahhs” and violins. “When you told me you were leaving, I wasn’t thirsty for revenge / No I wasn’t disappointed much at all cuz you’ll be back again.” JP’s got the voice, he’s got the guitar chops, he’s the real deal. This band lives and dies by him. Obvioulsy, together they’re amazing and exciting and deserving of all the buzz and more, but it’s the lead singer’s aura, his songwriting, musical abilities, voice, inflections and trademark chin raise “that’s right” rockstar move that set him apart. And what shines most here right up front with the very first track is JP’s construction and delivery of guitar solos. They are choruses in and of themselves.
As with RATATAT and NEON INDIAN, you find yourself recreating the guitar riffs in your head just as often as you hum the melodies. With a band that boasts such catchy melodies, to make this kind of statement in the fist few minutes, saying, “hey, we got real solid musicianship too,” gives the band the necessary we-are-legit stamp. By song two, Swim, you see the band stop showing you how technically sound they are as they begin to rock your face off. This is where J.P. shows his talent as a singer, being able to sing a straight forward pop rock song like Rivers Cuomo on the first track, then trying to break the mic on the second, sounding more like early Isaac Brock from MODEST MOUSE than the guy who dared you to destroy his sweater. Coming back on song three and fusing the first two, offering a softer vocal that maintains just as much bite as the yell from Swim, brings it all full circle. You should at this point be aware that something special is happening in South Florida.
Take It Easy, the third track, is a poppy jangle about boos who are trying to work things out before they get bad, setting up a plan for success in a relationship. SURFER BLOOD places this message on top of a hoppy island jam. You find yourself dancing like a little kid, singing along with what sounds like they may be veiled threats or concerned warnings as JP wails “we should take it easy / or we will both be sorry.” A twangy guitar line coupled with cowbells and a thick bass riff serves as a fun compliment to the vocals. You might expect a different tone just from reading the lyrics of this chorus, but SURFER BLOOD ensures that they’ll instill hope and happiness into the message. They make sure, by keeping it fun, that JP isn’t making any threats. He’s just telling his girl he loves it and let’s not fuck it up. And let’s dance. Take it Easy boasts as good a chorus as I think I’ve ever heard. And, as with later track Anchorage, its last minute or so is so absolutely amazing, you’ll wish it played as your life’s soundtrack.
Going into this first listen, if the lead singer’s voice hadn’t yet become one of your head’s bffs, you might not necessarily believe this material all came from one band. By the third song of the album you can’t help but recognize that this is something unique and dynamic. The album is a changeling, bouncing from straight power pop to a sort of lo-fi punk to beach-party love within the first three tracks. The rest of the album is just as good, if not better. Fast Jabroni finds JP sounding a bit like MORRISSEY in a song that sounds nothing like MORRISSEY. Harmonix offers another killer chorus in a song about getting on.
By the time you hit Anchorage, you’ve likely already fallen in love with SURFER BLOOD. By the time Anchorage is done, your mouth is probably smiling real wide. The last three of minutes of that track are the best I’ve heard in forever. Better than anything I heard last year, and that includes Two Weeks, 1901, 11th Dimension…the end of Anchorage is song-of-the-year quality. The end of that song screams “brilliant” as loud as JP screams “SWIM” on the record’s second track. Anchorage is destined to be one of the top songs of 2010 entirely because of those last 3 minutes. Kinda like What Would I Want? Sky if you think about it. Here, more than anywhere else on the album, we see the importance of the whole of the band. Here we see that, “hot dang this shit is fire.” This shit is fire.