Monday, January 18, 2010
Album: Astro Coast
Rating: ******** (8/10)
Astro Coast is one of those albums that is nearly perfect in execution but uninteresting in concept. The one time I heard Surfer Blood live, I walked out after a few minutes because I could not stand another minute. My reaction to this album has been much warmer, but something about it really puts me off.
And that something is that this album is devoid of courage. It's a pop album with a semi-cool underground facade but the band doesn't take risks, emotionally or musically. The last thing we need to start 2010 is another Beach Boys influenced band of white boys making music no one could ever find scary. That said, if we had to keep one, I'd throw out Girls and Real Estate in a heartbeat and keep these guys instead.
Surfer Blood, though recording in a dorm room, have certainly created a masterful record. The production is astounding, with reverb on the vocals that captures the Brian Wilson-style three dimensions so popular these days. The melodies are far more tightly constructed than many of the band's peers - like it or not, it's an album of perfect pop songs, with greater maturity and greater composition than the others of its type. The most obvious reference point is Weezer, but Surfer Blood sound bigger. I suppose if there is an element of courage in Astro Coast, it's that the band doesn't cling to indie falsehoods. They are a pop band and they aren't afraid to sound larger than life.
The only other major flaw in the album is, for all its great songwriting, it manages to rip off more than one source. The opening of "Harmonix" almost exactly echoes the first bars of Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood 2 - Laika" while the major guitar riff in the chorus of "Swim" was lifted from an 80's pop-metal song I can't remember the name of ($10 to whoever names it!). "Anchorage" barely alters a few guitar licks on loan from the poppiest of late 80's/early 90's Sonic Youth. There are more familiar pieces than these, but none are nearly enough to constitute copyright infringement and given the limited possibilities of major key pop guitar tunes, I'm sure the band didn't consciously rip anyone off. But if you're well versed enough in music, you'll hear a lot more of other bands than you'll hear of Surfer Blood themselves.
That isn't to say the record is jumbled - it's a cohesive digestion of vastly varied pop influences, each song fitting well into the package. A few slower, longer, more involved songs like "Slow Jabroni" and "Anchorage" grant the album a little depth. Though not remotely groundbreaking, Astro Coast is an appealing record of professional quality and I wouldn't be surprised to see this band selling out some huge venues in the near future. I just won't one of those buying a ticket.