Album Review: Surfer Blood, “Pythons”

Pythons

I first heard Florida-based Surfer Blood playing in the background of an Omaha record store several months ago. I later YouTubed a few of their tracks, liked what I heard, and promptly forgot they existed. Then recently, I found myself planning a trip to Seattle and looking to take in a concert during my stay. Surfer Blood’s was the only name I recognized on SongKick, and upon discovering they had a new record out this last year, I figured that listening would allow me to kill two birds with one stone: write another review in my end-of-2013-album-a-day marathon, and decide whether the gig was for me.

Despite the name and the surf-rock touches that attended their 2010 debut, Pythons (2013) is much more enamored of Weezer than Brian Wilson. This is especially evident in the extent to which Surfer Blood’s uptempo melodic instincts conceal darker undercurrents. It’s a well-publicized fact that singer John Paul Pitts was arrested in 2012 for domestic battery. And even though the charges were dropped, the shadow of that experience hangs heavy over this new record. Sometimes it takes the form of self-doubt: “Guarded by a plagiarizing heart, I still can’t believe you’d keep yours with me,” he sings on album highlight “Gravity.” Other times it takes the form of pleading, as on the Vampire Weekend-sounding “Say Yes to Me.” At still other times it’s straight-up self-loathing:

Looked in the mirror today
Then I got scared away
Oh I need love
No affection for my reflection
Oh I need love
‘Cause I can’t give it, never forgive myself
(“Blair Witch”)


By the time the record closes with “Prom Song,” the fraught relationship that Pitts has been agonizing over for the last 34 minutes seems to have finally imploded. You’d have never guessed it from the band’s breezy, ultra-tuneful indie guitar rock, however. Produced with a clean, radio-friendly sheen by Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters), these are songs that live and die on their sizable hooks. The record is at its strongest when the band keeps things open and light, as on the aforementioned “Gravity” (a truly mighty three minute pop song) or the wistful waltz “Needles & Pins” – the latter in particular features some surprisingly nimble lead lines from guitarist Thomas Fettke. Conversely, it’s at its weakest when the band essays heaviness: witness Pitts’ occasional, incongruous screaming or the cathartic-but-sludgy “I Was Wrong.”

Wrong he may well be – whatever happened that night in 2012, Pitts is obviously pretty unhappy with himself. But even if his self-immolation and his band’s exuberant melodism coexist a little uneasily at times, Pythons does more things right than wrong. It’s far from the best record I’ve heard all year, but the gig looks to be well worth the $10.

7/10

Buy it here. Listen to it here.


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2 Responses to Album Review: Surfer Blood, “Pythons”

  1. Pingback: Tom’s Top 10 of 2013 | Revolutions Per Minute

  2. Pingback: Gig Review: The Paperboys, Seattle WA (Tractor Tavern) 1/4/2014 | Revolutions Per Minute

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