Surfer Blood’s beloved debut, Astro Coast, came out in January of 2010. The long-awaited sophomore effort, Pythons, makes evident the musical maturation (yeah, that word looks like something else) of the band. Between being made sweet love to by Pitchfork coverage, touring with The Pixies and lead singer John Paul Pitts enduring getting arrested for domestic battery, there’s been quite a bit leading up to this album’s release. Whether or not it has been worth the wait is somewhat difficult to say. If you were expecting more of the same, then you might be disappointed. But, if you’re willing to accept a certain amount of growth and stylistic shift, you’ll likely be quite pleased with the result.
“Demon Dance” establishes the 90s, Pixies-esque influence–though that could be because of using Pixies producer Gil Norton–that Surfer Blood has taken on Pythons. Its segue into the upbeat “Gravity” echoes tones of “Anchorage,” maintaining something of a surf rock beat throughout. One of the first examples of Surfer Blood’s lyrical advancement, Pitts, sings, “I think we both can see our own gravity/Is keeping our orbits in place/We’ve been around the sun together as one, keeping up a furious pace.” Following “Gravity” is the first single “Weird Shapes,” a blatant homage to Blue Album-era Weezer. Alluding to the album’s title, Pitts affirms, “I’m shedding my skin, I’m spreading my wings/All with the best intentions.”
“I Was Wrong” is a slower, lumbering track that showcases a more contemplative Pitts crooning, “Staying up all night with my ball and chain/All the bridges burst into yellow flame/Winning and losing and pushing away/If I fell apart would you stay?” This transitions into ”Squeezing Blood,” which picks up the pace again with a more lackadaisical tone. ”Say Yes To Me” is another Astro Coast-esque song with its fanciful guitar riffs and droning vocals. Its throwback sounding lyrics find Pitts urging, “Ohhh say yes to me, say yes to me/I love you dearly, so let me see the girl I knew is still true blue.”
“Blair Witch,” the title of which is difficult to gauge in terms of naming, is one of the whinier tracks on Pythons, with Pitts bemoaning, “If I can’t touch you, I don’t know what to do.” The following track, ”Needles and Pins,” is one of the most successful with regard to Surfer Blood’s execution of a slower tempo song. The grave, somber tone of the lyrics match as Pitts confesses, “Immaculate savior, this is my prayer to you/Dampen my tongue so I can’t taste the malice/Numb me from any regret…” Subsequently, “Slow Six” starts out with another Pixies-esque riff and is perhaps one of the most singular tracks of the album for its sophisticated musical arrangement.
Not necessarily something you’d want to dance to at your prom, “Prom Song” is an interesting offering with its antithetical prom motif–though it does have the melancholic lilt of a post-prom royalty announcement track. Pitts accuses, ”You tell me things aren’t fair, like I was unaware,” adding to the anti-prom sort of theme. The first of two bonus tracks, “Bird 4 U” showcases the exuberant, upbeat style of Surfer Blood and may very well be the best of of both worlds when it comes to combining Astro Coast and Pythons sensibilities. Concluding with ”Phantom Limb” (not to be confused with The Shins song), Surfer Blood chooses a somewhat weak note to end the album on. Pitts’ vocals are washed away with the forgettable guitar riffs of “Phantom Limb,” leading one to believe that while their sophomore attempt exhibits progress, the band still has plenty of room for perfecting their style.