In the last decade, alternative music has gained complexity. It’s delicate, full of trinkets and tricks, orchestras and orchestration. It’s more frantically intricate than it’s ever been, and you either like that or hate it.
It’s nearly forgotten the lo-fi, DIY strands that kept things even during the 90’s—let alone the democratic, fierce personality of 70’s punk. But the current still moves, even if it’s in small, unseen ways. Last year saw the rise of small venue acts like Japandroids, Girls and Cymbals Eat Guitars, which revived some of that classicism and conventionality. They remember where we’ve drifted from: Pavement, garage rock, and a few good lessons from the grunge guys.
Oh, and Weezer (RIP: 1994-1996). Yes, we’ve missed their naïve take on that whole time.
But rising Floridians, Surfer Blood, are functioning in that same role with their recently released “Astro Coast.” It’s refreshingly guitar driven, with its fair share of standard chords. There’s a certain reverb, reminiscent of the time. But there’s enough sunshiny, buoyant melody to meet the demands of post-Barack music trends. These usually come in Vampire Weekend guitar mimicks or, on rare occasion, “tropical” percussion.
So it’s a good balance of the old and new.
There’s also a great deal of vocal nostalgia. I see an ongoing similarity between the lead vocalist (John Paul Pitts) and the distinct voice of The Shins. He’s also Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) on “Twin Peaks,” between the falsetto of an early bridge and a crescendoed outburst at 1:20. “Catholic Pagans” is similar, and then adds some of his immaturity. But, despite influence, I don’t mean to infer that his is an unconfident or dependent character. To me, the anthemic “Swim” is proof that he’s not a reserved cheat.
They have hidden all kinds of texture in these ten tracks though. Pitts has cited the influence of several sonic pioneers, including The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr’s 1987 influential “You’re Living All Over Me.” Raw tracks like “Harmonix” and “Anchorage” are especially indebted to what he mentions, and to Pinkerton. But even the other tracks, drenched with chord progressions, are crowded with electronic space. I’m sure the recording adds some of that thickness, but it’s better for it. The effect is very tidal.
From what I’ve read, these guys don’t surf. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. You can group them with all of that beachy pop. There’s all the jangles and twang. But, as Weezer demonstrated in 1994, there’s also something in the sandy grain—the sounds harmonically-circular pop forgot. “Astro Coast” reminds us of the good in returning to shore.