Surfer Blood, Tarot Classics EP
By luke larsen
November 7, 2011
You know the days of "selling out" are over when a band like Surfer Bloodcan sign to Warner Bros. Records and no one even notices. When SurferBlood's debut album dropped last year, it was something of a breath offresh air. Here was a young band who was not afraid to play anthemicmelodies over distorted power chords in the midst of an indie sceneobsessed with reverb and banjos. So how does their sound translate to amajor label over a year later?
In one thought: pretty well. If you were a Surfer Blood fan who listenedin for the big anthemic melodies and the chugging guitar rock, you'll be quite pleased to hear a lot of that sticking around in the TarotClassics EP. In fact, in just four songs and 15 minutes, the EP doeseverything you'd want a follow-up to an album that got as much hype asAstro Coast. The EP opens with the chilled-out surf rock song "I'm NotReady," which is every bit as catchy as many of the tracks off oftheir debut album. The first thing I noticed when I firstheard the EP though, was the improved production and a stronger sense of confidence coming from frontman John Paul Pitts.
Whereas their big hit from Astro Coast, "Swim," was a sloshy rock song soakedin reverb and effects, "I'm Not Ready" features a John Paul Pitts whois confidently seeing past the hype and not having to rely on effects to create a grand sense of scale. And while the band feels as confident in themselves musically as ever, Tarot Classics also finds the bandexploring some deeper sentiments lyrically. On "I'm Not Ready," thecontext of a relationship gives Pitts the chance to sing somesurprisingly good advice that goes beyond the beaches and babes: To be a friend means owning up and giving all of yourself / And loyalty isstarted through loving others like self.
"Miranda," the EP's big single, is also a track that feels like the boys feelright at home at their new Warner Bros. home. While the productionthroughout the album definitely shines and glistens considerably morethan Astro Coast, "Miranda" proves Surfer Blood have still got that youthful, punk-rock attitude that differentiates them from the crowd of indie-wannabes. And although they retain so many of those same uniquequalities that made Astro Coast the hit it was, Tarot Classics ismost definitely not the sound of a band in stagnation either.
The big surprise of the album is definitely "Drinking Problem," the finaltrack on the album. Featuring an assortment of drum machines andsynthesizers, "Drinking Problem" finds the band reaching out andexploring some unexpected sonic territories. Intricate drum machines,warm synth textures, manipulated vocal samples and nostalgic reverbcarry Pitts’ melodies out to sea, not so unlike a more rocked-outversion of Panda Bear’s album from earlier this year. The lyrics followPitts into the psychological traps of addiction and self-pity, repeating“at least I know who my friends are” over and over. Don’t worry, itsnothing too deep, but Pitts’ thematic flexibility is reassuring in theleast. Ultimately, the track and the EP overall successfully follow-up Astro Coast and paint a promising future for the four-piece beachrockers.
Luke Larsen is writer and musician based in Portland, Oregon whose writingson music, video games, and pop culture are regularly featured inpublications such as Paste, RELEVANT magazine, and Christ and Pop Culture. As an avid music lover, Luke also reviews new music via his personal blog, The Feedback Loop. Contact him on twitter at @lalarsen11 or at la.larsen11 [at] gmail [dot] com.