Album Review: Astro Coast by Surfer Blood

12 Jan

Cover of Surfer Blood - Astro Coast

Just about every review of Surfer Blood’s debut, Astro Coast, due out on the 19th of January, seems to mention “lo-fi”. Oh shit, now I’ve done it. But I’d like to make a point! Anybody who is labelling this “lo-fi” has clearly never listened to actual lo-fi music. Sure, this may have been recorded in the band members’ dormitory room, but you’d never know by the sound of it. Get back to me once you’ve listened to some of the early Dunedin releases, e.g. the Dunedin Double EP (The Chills, The Verlaines, The Stones, and Sneaky Feelings), The Clean’s early singles, The Rip’s A Timeless Piece, and The Weeds’ Wheatfields 7″ single, or for that matter go north to Wellington DIY anarcho-punks Riot 111. Then you might know what you’re talking about.

“So, Ax,” you say, “now that you’ve established how well you’re settling in as An Ocean Of Noise’s resident grumpy crank, what does Astro Coast sound like? How many strips are you going to tear off it?”

Not many, actually.

Surfer Blood announce themselves on this debut as a band already with a defined sound. They take their influences and distill it into a catchy pop of their own that dresses in different guises on different tracks but remains consistent – this is no genre hopping like Hockey’s frustratingly erratic Mind Chaos from last year. They sure seem to like applying reverb to the vocals, and it’s effective, especially when they want to pump out a memorable chorus. Such choruses are what will draw you back into this album.

Once drawn back in, Surfer Blood have a sound worth hanging around for. They like to dabble in a hazy, kind of summery sort of indie rock-pop; infectious single Swim sums this up ideally. It’s a shoegaze song with more prominent vocals. Perhaps it’s the pop version of what Solar Powered People have been trying to do on their rockin’ shoegaze albums. Other tracks feel a bit more down-to-earth, and this is summeriness without the disposability. Given the band’s name, you might think they’re surfers – they’re not, but the surf rock sneaks through all the same. The short instrumental Neighbour Riffs shows this most obviously; it is little more than an embellished surf rock number, rejoicing in the most memorable bassline on the album. If we’re going to talk about fitting names, we should look beyond just the band name to the song Harmonix; being a sucker for guitar harmonics, this was an instant favourite.

Astro Coast is not an instant classic, but it’s a slab of catchy fun with some sonic depth. Undoubtedly it’s a good accompaniment to Melbourne’s boiling 40C summer days at present, so those of you up in the Northern Hemisphere should be appreciating Surfer Blood’s sound in six months. There are moments where I think the songwriting could be better, and there are a couple of passages that just don’t suit my tastes – Twin Peaks’ intro comes to mind, and Slow Jabroni, as its name implies, begins slowly and ineffectually before building into a solid song midway.

Generally Astro Coast is mixed well; the guitars and their effects give the album a lot of vibrant colour, the prominent vocals propel a number of songs, and the drums provide a solid platform without being distracting. Perhaps the bass could use some work, though; too often, it feels hidden behind the guitars. Like I said before, the notion this album has anything to do with lo-fi is delusional; it is too clear, too balanced, and the murk and hiss of lo-fi recordings is nowhere to be found.

In the end, this feels like a pretty honest and good-natured album; the only question that remains is how well it will last. 3.5/5 for now, with the possibility of 3.75/5 if I’m still enjoying it next summer.

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