Warner Bros. Records
You know the days of "selling out" are over when a band like Surfer Blood can sign to Warner Bros. Records and no one even notices. When Surfer Blood's debut album dropped last year, it was something of a breath of fresh air. Here was a young band who was not afraid to play anthemic melodies over distorted power chords in the midst of an indie scene obsessed with reverb and banjos. So how does their sound translate to a major label over a year later?
In one thought: pretty well. If you were a Surfer Blood fan who listened in 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 Tarot Classics EP. In fact, in just four songs and 15 minutes, the EP does everything you'd want a follow-up to an album that got as much hype as Astro Coast. The EP opens with the chilled-out surf rock song "I'm Not Ready," which is every bit as catchy as many of the tracks off of their debut album. The first thing I noticed when I first heard 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 soaked in reverb and effects, "I'm Not Ready" features a John Paul Pitts who is 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 band exploring some deeper sentiments lyrically. On "I'm Not Ready," the context of a relationship gives Pitts the chance to sing some surprisingly good advice that goes beyond the beaches and babes: To be a friend means owning up and giving all of yourself / And loyalty is started through loving others like self.
"Miranda," the EP's big single, is also a track that feels like the boys feel right at home at their new Warner Bros. home. While the production throughout the album definitely shines and glistens considerably more than 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 unique qualities that made Astro Coast the hit it was, Tarot Classics is most definitely not the sound of a band in stagnation either.
The big surprise of the album is definitely "Drinking Problem," the final track on the album. Featuring an assortment of drum machines and synthesizers, "Drinking Problem" finds the band reaching out and exploring some unexpected sonic territories. Intricate drum machines, warm synth textures, manipulated vocal samples and nostalgic reverb carry Pitts’ melodies out to sea, not so unlike a more rocked-out version of Panda Bear’s album from earlier this year. The lyrics follow Pitts into the psychological traps of addiction and self-pity, repeating “at least I know who my friends are” over and over. Don’t worry, its nothing too deep, but Pitts’ thematic flexibility is reassuring in the least. Ultimately, the track and the EP overall successfully follow-up Astro Coast and paint a promising future for the four-piece beach rockers.
(This review originally appeared at RELEVANTmagazine.com. Score rounded to fit requirements.)