Surfer Blood has definitely had an interesting history as a band. The South Florida indie rocker’s debut album, Astro Coast, was extremely successful, and for good reason. They effortlessly crafted music that was a seamless fusion of some times angsty, dark indie rock with upbeat, beachy pop, creating a refreshingly unique juxtaposition. The band’s success took a downhill turn when lead singer, John Paul Pitts, was arrested under suspicion of domestic violence after an argument with his girlfriend. Although all charges were dropped, the arrest left a resoundingly negative impact upon the band’s reputation. After signing to Warner Brothers, Surfer Blood released their next LP, Pythons. Critically, the album was regarded as an angsty mess and the record was no where near as successful as expected. Thereafter, the band was dropped from their record label. In December of 2014 guitarist, Thomas Fekete was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and a majority of the group’s recent efforts have been in support of him, including their latest tour. And now, two years after the failure of their previous album, they are back at it with their third record, 1000 Palms.
It’s obvious that the group makes an attempt to return to the ways that brought them their early success. They moved away from professional production and tried to take on a more homegrown methodology, recording in spaces such as their parents homes. Although they attempted to emulate the ways of their youth, their evolution as a band is still utterly apparent. While maintaining their obvious beachy vibe, their sound has become a lot cleaner and even mellower at times. The album comes off as a lot more produced than Astro Coast, and a lot less angsty than Pythons. It’s also a lot safer than their past two LPs. Lyrically, 1000 Palms tries to delve as deep as the youthful disquietude of their debut record, and it occasionally succeeds. But more often than not, the record comes across as much more facile and lighthearted than intended. The album maintains this pattern musically as well. While there aren’t any failures or even remotely bad songs on the album, they all tend to sound the same. The often clean guitars and sunny rhythms work excellently to maintain their surf-y aesthetic on several of the tracks but this sound is used so often that with each time I listen to the record it becomes increasingly monotonous. Overall, the album is a great collection of generic, easy to listen to, beachy, indie rock, but I can’t help but desire a little more variation and experimentation from the group.
The first single from the LP, “I Can’t Explain”, is the quintessential track off of 1000 Palms. The song begins very mellow and beachy with an almost dreamy feel to it. Later on, the song does develop into something with more depth through adding in heavier percussion and a more intense riff. But overall, the track remains fairly reserved and calm even though a rather fast beat. “Island” is arguably the best track off the record. The song begins upbeat, with dulcet guitars and vocals. But later, the track quickly changes gears coming on hard with distortion and crashing percussion. The variation in sound that occurs on “Island” is one of the more successful attempts to recreate the juxtaposition of harder rock and surf pop found onAstro Coast. The album finishes off with the track “NW Passage.” This song is the most successful execution of the more tranquil vibe that 1000 Palms takes on. The use of birds chirping and waves rushing, coupled with breezy acoustic guitars and simple harmonies crafts an enjoyably nostalgic and serene sentiment.
In essence, 1000 Palms is a great album that I’m sure will see much more success and acclaim that that of Pythons. And it is obvious that that was the main focus of the record while it was being written. The album steers away from anything too heavy or experimental remaining within the safe boundaries of simple and sunny indie pop-rock. Surfer Blood’s inability to take risks greatly limits the potential of the album and it is to my belief that the group is capable of so much more. I definitely recommend checking out 1000 Palms, as it is still a great record, but for those who are accustomed to the near-perfection ofAstro Coast, it will most likely still be a letdown.