Now that surf rock infused indie has begun to garner some popularity, a wave (har har) of bands embracing the style is to be expected, most of which aren't going to be very good. Surfer Blood is a band that is kind of in the middle; they sound like they have potential (and are definitely better than the highly overrated Drums), but on their debut, Astro Coast, they show little more than who their influences are. It doesn't have the heart of Girls' Album, or Real Estate's self titled debut's shimmering guitars and overall prettiness to really stand out. Nonetheless, John Paul Pitts and co. are not without a certain charm on their debut.
Astro Coast kicks off with the fun pair of Floating Vibes and lead single Swim, which essentially encompass everything that is good and bad about Surfer Blood's debut. Firstly, the quartet is clearly talented, and they give off an energetic performance even in the studio, which suggests a great live show. While enthusiastic, however, they come across as highly derivative. Both songs scream a simpler Pavement with a dash of surf influence, and the chorus in Floating is pure Weezer, particularly Surf Wax America. As a result, while the two songs are fun, they feel more like references to their heroes, which is fine and good but exhibits very little creativity. Harmonix is another well performed but unoriginal sounding piece, particularly since it's based on a single sequence of two harmonics that have already been heard before numerous times. The song has a nice pre-chorus, but past that the song doesn't really go anywhere, brandishing a few of the forgettable melodies strewn throughout the album.
There are moments where they step out of this mold, but it's either short lived or bland. Twin Peaks starts with a strong hook, but it's interrupted by an awkward Vampire Weekend sounding break that would have been better left to... well, Vampire Weekend. That single hook is possibly the most memorable thing on Astro Coast, and even the decent chorus isn't really strong enough to back it. Take It Easy adopts an afrobeat vibe completely out of nowhere, and while it isn't poorly executed, the only thing that makes it really stand out is its stark contrast with the majority of the album.
The record does finish strongly however, with the very well layered Catholic Pagans, and the penultimate track Anchorage is surprisingly adept, keeping a scant few melodies sounding fresh for six minutes, with an inspired stop and drone in the middle. Still, even the songs that do work on Astro Coast are drenched in the band's mid-nineties influences backed with decent hooks, and didn't linger much in my head after listening.
There's no reason to think that Surfer Blood won't come into their own within their next release or two. While Astro Coast is not really a good album, calling it a bad one is even more of a stretch; it's one of those debuts that shows more promise than actual quality, which is of course not necessarily a bad thing. Not a very memorable listen, but a fun one nonetheless.